Wednesday, August 27th, 2014
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As a child, one might have imagined counting to ten billion in the course of reckoning with the seeming infinitude of enormous numbers. This is actually impossible to do in a human life time, since it would take over three hundred years. But, as an adult, one might discover that he can simply will himself from zero to that number, or even more—at least as long as he is counting in dollars, as the founders of Snapchat and Uber have discovered, whose companies are now valued at more than ten billion dollars. A lingering question: now that the ten-billion-dollar frat has become a little less exclusive, who will be the first to reach infinity?

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Jay Prince, "Polaroids"

Jay Prince, the East London rapper, tells The 405: "I don't know, I mean it wasn't really much else, there was no big thing that happened behind it—it was just me getting back into the swing of things and just trying something new." Good enough for me!

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New York City, August 25, 2014

weather review sky 082514★★★★ An orange flash of sunrise came off a building to the west and through a crack in the blinds. The morning was cool still but humid. The uptown train came to a stop with a wash of heat across the platform, raising a sweat. On the ride downtown, a couple carried matching beach chairs. Every line of mortar was distinct in the upper-story brickwork. By midday, up on the roof, the sun was hot. It was pleasant to let it pin the body down in a chair, to feel the black plastic hot but not hot enough to hurt through a shirt. One eye had to stay squinted shut for a while, till acclimation set in. A blue-white haze enfolded an airplane and tinted the Freedom Tower; a blue-white glow flooded the retinas. By rush our the streets were shady and cool again, with a breeze moving through them. Dazzling beams of light came through gaps in the buildings without warning. The sun went down behind a line of bright-rimmed blue clouds, with nacreous ones above.

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A Redder Summer

riottsOn the third Saturday of July in 1919, a number of military men—some recently discharged, some just off-duty, but many in uniform—began indiscriminately beating black men who happened to be walking in the area of the National Mall in Washington D.C. The attackers sought to avenge a white woman who had been allegedly “jostled” by two black men; she claimed that they tried to steal her umbrella. The Washington Post reported the incident under the headline "Negroes Attack Girl."

Washington, D.C., faced a particular set of racial tensions that summer. Local newspapers carried reports decrying the racial conflict tearing apart the nation in other cities, all the while publishing sensational stories about a new wave of crime caused by blacks in D.C. The Washington Post published a letter to the editor on July 13th that was concerned about the "crimes and outrages that have recently been committed." It suggested that, because "many of the suspects are negros" perhaps some "negro ex-soldiers" should be appointed to the police force. READ MORE

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Who Reads 'Mein Kampf'?

kampfyEarlier this year, a new volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard's novel My Struggle arrived in America, prompting a fresh discussion of why the writer borrowed his book's title from Adolf Hitler. Knausgaard said the choice was about scaling down; he wanted to contrast the dictator's "grand, ideological worldview with the reality of the individual." But he also believes that, "for someone interested in the zone between literature and reality, this book is, in the end, impossible to avoid." In fact, he added, "I think everybody should read Mein Kampf." Responding to the surprising spike of digital sales of Mein Kampf, Stephen Marche echoed Knausgaard's sentiment in Esquire: "Everyone should read it. It's essential to understanding history and the way that history reaches into our present moment." And, last month, when considering if Germans should read the book, Peter Ross Range concluded in the Times that they would be "better served by open confrontation with Hitler’s words."

So, perhaps everyone should read Mein Kampf, as these men have recently determined. But who actually does? What perspective do these bring to the book? What do they buy alongside it? What did these people hope to learn? There are over six hundred reviews of Mein Kampf on Amazon, and I read all of them. Who gave it five stars? Three stars? Or just one?

Of the patterns that emerged as I read Hitler’s readers, none were so immediately unsurprising as readers who do not reckon with Mein Kampf so much as adhere to it, chapter and verse. Consider the following review, titled "Jesus and Hitler":

Hate them both or Love them both. What's important is the realization that they came preaching the same message and suffered the same fate.

This type of reader frequently discusses "our servile deference to Jewry" or refers to the author as "Herr Hitler." They deny the Holocaust. They call the book a "must read for any racially conscious white person." They sign off, "All the best, to one of the Volk!" But many of this ilk are less overt, suggesting they came to Mein Kampf innocently and found reason there. They imply a process of discovery and conversion, much like Hitler's. READ MORE

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The Many One-Season Sitcom and News Parodies of Comedy Central

biglakeHaving previously tackled Comedy Central's multitude of short-lived reality parodies and sketch shows, this time I’ll be examining Comedy Central’s large quantity of news parodies and warped versions of sitcoms. READ MORE

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"But walking around the East Village, I just want to cry at the state of it. There are so many fuckin’ jocks everywhere! It’s like a frat house everywhere. There are all those terrible bars like The 13th Step, and it’s just spreading over to A and B. And now, in Williamsburg, you have all these frat guys dressed as alternatives. I don’t know if it’s a sign of the times, but where are the real weirdos?" They have apparently moved to Park Slope.

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The War on Drugs, "Under The Pressure"

The second single from Lost in the Dream, and a rare example of a song that's cheery despite its constituent parts signaling, in unison, overwhelming depressiveness.

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"There are currently nine major North American freight railroads. Operators point out that hopping freight is illegal and extremely dangerous and hope that the slide in hobo numbers in recent decades will continue."

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New York City, August 24, 2014

★★★★★ Sunshine came slamming down, and the shade was near opaque by contrast. Out on the Sheep Meadow bodies were mashed into the grass, and the grass without bodies on it was mashed down by the bodies of days before. The children made for the rocks and the trees beyond, in the farthest corner of the meadow. Walking across the open space in full sun was one of the few ways to feel uncomfortably warm. The big cumulus clouds were visibly moving at first glance, but seemed to slow down under inspection. One of them drifted over the sun, and the silvery deposits in the nearest boulder glimmered instead of shining. A bare-chested man with a ponytail and wristbands climbed quickly up the biggest rock and flattened himself out, blue-lensed sunglasses to the heavens. A huge clot of fungus was swelling from the foot of one of the oaks, and a Paraphidippus jumping spider clambered up the trunk, its metallic green markings flashing. The children sat on a bench in the shade to eat hot dogs and a stale pretzel, accompanied by irregular thumps from the sand volleyball court. A breeze found the small of the back. The two-year-old hopped down from his seat and tried out a volleyball stance. A cloud big enough to achieve grayness made things so dim, for the moment, that one of the street lights came on. Foreshortened from the edge, the Sheep Meadow was so full it was almost impossible to find a vertical or horizontal line of open green across it. On the next lawn over, a young man threw his leg over the backs of a young woman's thighs and pressed his face into hers. The gray clouds held their majority, or at least a ruling coalition with the white. All day the balance kept shifting. The afternoon sky in the west out the windows looked as if the clouds were still keeping control, but outside, the east and the zenith revealed themselves to be wholly uncontested blue.

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A Rally for the Dead

2014-08-23 10.18.07

“How many times must we drink from the bitter cup of injustice?” Bishop Victor Brown asked at the “We Will Not Go Back” march on Saturday, which began in Staten Island where Eric Garner, a forty-three-year-old husband and father of six, died a little over a month ago after being placed in a chokehold, by officer Daniel Pantaleo. “We will not engage in the luxury of ‘cooling off’ or the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”

The demonstration—organized by Al Sharpton’s National Action Network—was intended to pressure federal prosecutors to step in and investigate the death as a civil rights case. As complicated as police brutality cases are, bringing such cases to trial—much less attaining a conviction—in a place like Staten Island, where so many have family members who work in law enforcement, is a challenge.

“We need the Feds to come in right now,” Constance Malcolm, the mother of Ramarley Graham, an unarmed eighteen-year-old who was shot by the NYPD in February 2012, said while addressing the crowd. “We need accountability.” She was joined by Kadiatou Diallo, the mother of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed twenty-two-year-old who was shot by the NYPD in February 1999. “Too much pain, too much struggle. Too many tears, too many victims,” Diallo said. “This has got to stop, and we will be here until it does.” Graham was five years old when Diallo was killed; Ferguson’s Michael Brown was three.

READ MORE

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Um, Is Your Facebook About To Get Less Dumb? Wow.

Haha, no. But a lot of people are wondering about this, because Facebook just made an announcement:

A small set of publishers who are frequently posting links with click-bait headlines that many people don’t spend time reading after they click through may see their distribution decrease in the next few months. We’re making these changes to ensure that click-bait content does not drown out the things that people really want to see on Facebook.

Great. Who doesn't hate clickbait? Actually, here's a better question: Who even knows what clickbait is? Here's Facebook's working definition:

Click-baiting’ is when a publisher posts a link with a headline that encourages people to click to see more, without telling them much information about what they will see.

Facebook says it will penalize publishers who do this by measuring the durations of their site visits. Sites that attract and keep Facebook users will be favored over sites that attract them and quickly send them back.

The instant media response here has been glee and relief—Facebook is stopping the march of Viral Media!—just as it was last time Facebook talked about "quality" content:

This, also like last time, misreads (reasonably) what Facebook means by "quality." READ MORE

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The Cost of Throwing a Pony Party for Your Seven-Year-Old Daughter Who's Really Into Horses

horse rescueAs much as I hope my children will come into their own as individuals, there’s something just overwhelmingly adorable about watching my kids be "into" the typical milestones of childhood. So while I very much dream my daughter will one day be some sort of hip-yet-together hybrid of Kate Bush and that woman who flaks GoldiBlox, there is just something irrepressibly cute about her obsession with all things horses and ponies.

To be clear, her horse obsession is the thing of I-Can-Read novels and made-for-cable movies. Though we live in a somewhat rural area, my wife and I are about as far from horse people as you get—not even in that faux landed gentry sense that Ralph Lauren enables. Come to think of it, I don’t think my wife even owned fake jodhpurs back in the early aughts when they were sort of cool. All of which puts my daughter’s love of horses on the level of fantasy and whimsy, which is where we all hope our kids will be when they're still rollin’ with the booster seat set; that sweet spot in time when they are becoming more independent but don’t actually hate you yet.

So as my daughter's seventh birthday approached, it was clear we had to do a horse theme, which presented a conundrum: There are riding rings and stables around the area that will host birthday parties, and even a few pony purveyors who will bring one to your house for kids to ride. These options are, of course, rather expensive. I just have a really hard time dropping serious cash on little kid's birthday parties, and by "have a really hard time" I actually mean "don’t have the funds to do so." READ MORE

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The Time I Worked at That Celebrity Bakery

People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, Becca Laurie tells us more about some famous people who enjoy eating cupcakes.

Becca! So what happened here?

A decade ago, I applied for a bakery job on a whim. I had no experience, and I’d never been to this specific bakery before. I was out to dinner with friends, and we stopped in for dessert. I filled out an application and started training the next week. 

The bakery was having a moment: It was featured on a TV show, and that meant a ton of tourists and a handful of celebrities. I worked there for two consecutive summers. By the end of the second year, the hype started to die down, and so did the frequency of famous customers. My memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be, but here’s who I remember: READ MORE

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The Best Time I Met Captain Jack Sparrow in Brazil

he'll get him high tonightThere's a tiny island town in Brazil called Morro do Sao Paolo where the idea of "the honeymoon" was born. It takes a winding cab ride through the jungle and two boat rides to get there, but once you do, you’re hit by sweeping ocean views and the smell of passion fruit that mysteriously wafts through the air at all times. This is a place where cars aren’t allowed. Where beautiful Argentinean girls with tan legs and ankle bracelets invite you to parties on the beach. Where you dance to the Brazilian pop song of the moment in the rain at 3 am, while guzzling down drinks made of Cachaça and pure glee.

Lovers come to this place to entangle in hammocks (and then make babies), which is why it was a particularly awkward destination for my platonic friend Dustin and I, who were both smack dab in the middle of quarter life crises. We met in New York, but as two kids hailing from the West, a couple of years in the city left us burnt out and confused. He had been in South America for the past couple of months living off insurance money from a bad car accident (and recovering from a heartbreak). I was blowing savings I should have actually been saving before starting grad school in California (and lovesick for a boy back in Brooklyn).

When we arrived on this island, we had spent the past couple of weeks traveling from city to city, but everyone we met said the trip wouldn’t be complete without an indulgent tropical leg. By the time we got to Morro, we were both hard out of cash, so our first stop was the one bank on the island. We had noticed over the course of our travels in Brazil that many ATMs didn’t read American cards, but we didn't let that stop us from spending what we had. After a couple of failed attempts at the machine, it was apparent that we weren’t getting any money. We were faced with the realities that we might not be able to 1) get a room at a hostel 2) ever leave.

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Only Real, "Pass the Pain"

A wobbly and proudly silly pop song from London's Only Real. Like "Cadillac Girl," "Pass the Pain" tips back and forth between endearing and slightly irritating, and never quite lets us know if its relationship with the 90s is pastiche, tribute, or coincidence.

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A Study in Contrasts

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 8.58.27 AMAs hundreds line up for Michael Brown's funeral, the New York Times is running twinned profiles of twenty-eight-year-old Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson and the unarmed eighteen-year-old he shot to death. This is how Wilson's begins:

On the early afternoon of Feb. 28, 2013, Officer Darren Wilson answered a police call of a suspicious vehicle where, the police said, the occupants might have been making a drug transaction. After a struggle, Officer Wilson subdued the suspect and grabbed his car keys before help arrived, the police said.

A large amount of marijuana was found in the car, the police said, and the 28-year-old suspect now faces seven charges, including possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute and resisting arrest. The incident won Officer Wilson a commendation, presented by the police chief this year as Officer Wilson stood, hands clasped before him, and city officials looked on.

And Brown's:

It was 1 a.m. and Michael Brown Jr. called his father, his voice trembling. He had seen something overpowering. In the thick gray clouds that lingered from a passing storm this past June, he made out an angel. And he saw Satan chasing the angel and the angel running into the face of God. Mr. Brown was a prankster, so his father and stepmother chuckled at first.

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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

bug

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."

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