The Box Builder

Peering down from a penthouse on the High Line.
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New York City, April 26, 2015

★★★★ Blossoms glowed and skateboard wheels rattled. Sounds were as bright and crisp as the light in the clean air—the rustle of paper shopping bags in the hands of a man with a baby strapped to his chest, the individual note of an idling taxi’s engine, the shuffling of shoes, the squeak of brakes. Every parked car was its own sunburst, or two or three; a cyclist’s teeth were bright white. The afternoon, dulled by clouds, couldn’t match the promise of the morning. Still it wasn’t chilly, and the sidewalks were full. The sun broke through again on its way down, so that the living-room foam-rubber baseball game became a pure blinding golden haze from the pitcher’s mound. Purple clouds trimmed with pink remained when the light finally dropped behind the buildings.

Uber Dreams

robtLast week was Earth Day, which you could’ve celebrated by “finding the right clean energy solutions for your household,” as the Incredible Hulk enjoined everyone, or by eating a local agricultural product instead of produce grown with “Californian oil,” or making some earth-friendly Tumblr image macros, or you could have…taken a ride in an UberPool.

Uber’s Pool car service “matches two riders – with up to one friend each – heading in the same direction.” This is advertised most straightforwardly as a way to save money by splitting the cost of a ride with another person, while not giving up “Uber-style on-demand convenience and reliability: just push the button like before and get a car in five minutes.” But for Earth Day, Uber presented using UberPool as a “pledge” that could be taken to get “a car off the road, and cut emissions,” because the act of sharing an Uber with someone else inherently means one fewer Uber driver is ferrying a single person to a destination, and because, over the long term, it will help Uber reduce car ownership altogether.

A Definitive Ranking of Every Kurt Cobain Movie Ever Made*

Montage_of_Heck_posterIf John Waters is the Pope of Trash, Kurt Cobain is the Pope of Teen Angst. My early punk days were spent loading quarters into the high school cafeteria jukebox just to hear the opening chords of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Years later, I forwent Klimt’s “The Kiss” as my dorm room poster of choice in favor of a black-and-white photo of Kurt Cobain pensively smoking a cigarette and holding his guitar.

Nirvana is an important part of the starter pack for entry-level punks. Nevermind is one of the best-selling records of all time, the extreme popularity a testament to it’s relatability. But rather than being labeled a “sellout,” Kurt Cobain remains an enigmatic figurehead to every upcoming generation of teens, in no small part because of his tragic suicide in 1994.

We still search for deeper insight into the man who once said that “People don’t deserve to know. It’s none of their goddamn business what my personal life is like now. Fuck them, they don’t need to know everything about me.” And yet there have been countless movies, documentaries, books, and suspicious homemade videos eager to analyze Kurt Cobain’s legacy.

As someone who has read at least 9 different books on grunge and bought the Kurt Cobain Journals from Urban Outfitters, what I am trying to say here is that I am most definitely qualified to rank this list.

*Note: After multiple attempts to scrape an illegal download link off the web, as well as IRL trips to indie video stores across Toronto, a watchable copy of The Vigil (for Kurt Cobain)—a 1998 road trip movie about a group of teens who hail from the same city where Marilyn Manson was recently punched in the face in a Denny’s travel to Kurt Cobain’s memorial in Seattle—still eludes me. As such, it has not been included in the ranking.

The Twitter Background Danger Zone

kennnnyyy

Ashley! So what happened here?

A week or so ago, someone tweeted and asked me if my background photo on Twitter was in reference to the male gaze. Due to my feminist ways, I can see how someone would think this was the case, but the answer is no. Kenny Loggins is so much more than the white male gaze. He’s a wonder, a gentleman, and the subject of my harmless obsession.

I was first introduced to Kenny Loggins’ music at the impressionable age of twelve. My seventh grade computer teacher gave me a tape of Kenny’s called Return to Pooh Corner because I was embarrassingly afraid of the dark, and he said it helped his daughter get over her fear, so it might help me get over mine. And it did! I’ve always had what boring people call an “overactive imagination,” so eventually Kenny became this loving and supportive father figure in my mind. I remember telling a classmate that his rat-tail made me think about MC Hammer, and then I felt really bad when I considered how Kenny would feel about me being mean to that person.

If I can be honest, I had no idea Kenny Loggins wasn’t some amazing, sensitive new artist who seemed to really care about kids and nature and stuff. When I realized that how much I dug him was a little off-brand for my demographic, I tried to be sneaky about my adoration. Unfortunately, I’ve never been great at pretending. I think a Kenny Loggins lyric is my senior quote from high school. As I got older, my love for Kenny only deepened. I have all of his albums, I know most of his songs by heart, and anyone who knows me KNOWS about him too. It’s inevitable. 

Will The Internet Just Fix Itself?

The internet is consolidating under centrally managed conglomerates and is endeavoring to remake the broader economy in its image. Much in the way that social media companies have been able to convert their temporary monopolies over novel forms of interaction into enormous corporations that, having ascended so quickly themselves, become immediately terrified and obsessed by self-preservation, newer companies are converting their brief control over soon-to-be-trivial labor concepts—software that matches drivers with riders, shoppers with buyers, clients with the variously self-employed—into multi-billion-dollar defense funds against their theoretical future disruptors.

Right? It all feels so inevitable, and so fast, and so inline with perfect economic principles, that it always seems a little too soon to talk about it. Why worry about life in an economy managed by toll-extracting asset-and-employee-free middleman companies when we only have to wait a few years to see what it will actually be like?

A cousin of this concern was expressed recently by Chris Dixon, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, a powerful VC firm, in the form of a “tweetstorm,” (TM) which I have rendered here as a “paragraph.”

The history of the internet is a series of battles between proprietary services and open protocols. Imagine if HTTP or SMTP were owned by a single company that could cut off access to developers. The world would have had far less innovation and wealth creation. In the 90s open protocols like HTTP and SMTP won out over closed services like AOL. Today, the situation is reversed, and closed services are winning for social networking, micromessaging, payments etc. But eventually the pendulum will swing back as the closed services atrophy and entrepreneurs & developers go elsewhere.

Maybe this is true; it is certainly appealing. Or maybe the decentralized internet was an anomaly! It is hard to square some sort of Return to Internet Nature with so many prospectors wandering the land with glints in their eyes. But who knows? The internet hasn’t been through enough macro cycles to give us any real sense of what the next one might look like.

Besides, this is optimism extending from resignation: the decentralization of the internet is something that will happen “eventually,” and an internet taxed by the platforms that host and shape it is still “winning.” And elsewhere in the world of people with millions of dollars to invest in tech, resignation to the externalities of the on-demand economy, as well as to its centralization, is being discussed more openly as a future problem. Labor is losing. (Again.)

Soviet, "Overrated"

Three minutes of warm, undisturbed synth-pop from the long-dormant Soviet.

Should Straight White Men Be Ashamed of Themselves?

MEEP MEEP

The Concessionist gives advice like… once a month maybe? Whatever. I’m busy. Trouble? Write today.

Hi Concessionist,

Ha, okay this is going to be awful.

So maybe not as a dogma, but I think there’s some validity to the idea that white guys have kinda ran their course? It’s inspiring to read Saeed Jones’ statement that black women are the future! Even the Times review of that Jon Ronson book was able to interact with its ideas while keeping his influence to a minimum. I would love it if white guys used their patriarchal nonsense status to limit themselves and fold their influence into smaller and smaller pocket squares until some ambitious person of color can reach down and scoop them into her lapel. That should be the future of white dudes.

The only problem is that haha I am one of them! Whoops. I am a white boy with an ostensibly flexible gender orientation but really let’s be honest I just don’t want to be hetero because ugh. And I’m not sure how to reconcile the stuff I just said with my jealously-guarded self-esteem: nobody wants to be a pocket square, but maybe I should be one?

I don’t want to apologize for who I am, a) because my brain makes me do that anyway, and it’s probably unhealthy for me to perceive that the universe is validating depression-y insecurities, but more importantly b) self-loathing white guys with persecution complexes are just noooooooo *gasp* stooooop. And I don’t want to have one! Being me should be, like, fine, and not anything to be upset about.

It would be fine if I did my job and then shut up and watched Star Wars or something. Except I want to be a writer! I have good words to write about things that I want eyeballs to see. But I don’t want to be another white dude writer taking up space and eyeballs. I even write flippantly to avoid owning the thoughts on the page, because who wants another earnest dude anywhere ever? They (we? ack) are boring in practice and probably even morally objectionable in a cosmic sense—and yeah, rather interchangeable.

How do I submit pitches without feeling that I should stand down in favor of a more deserving word-brain? How do I get a book written without a very good and smart person saying it shouldn’t have been written by me?

Thank you Concessionist and sorry for the dummy email, because I am embarrassed for putting these bad thoughts into words and sharing them.

Thanks and sorry again,

King Of The Patriarchy

New York City, April 23, 2015

weather review sky 042315★★ Gusts clamored against the building. The sun, when it showed, looked capable of being pleasant, but the clouds had persistence and numbers. Pigeons dropped on the air, wings stiff and upright, riding the wind across 68th Street and just under the top of the post office garage opening. By school pickup the sun had stopped trying, leaving dark sky and a cold wind slinging garbage in great sloppy curves and then, on the way back up from the river, even a grim sprinkle of rain. The maintenance staff had swapped out the winter insulation on the heating-and-cooling units, and chilly air forced its way up through the vent, as if the blower were on. The clouds allowed the daylight a few brief and lazy moments of glory before its final surrender.

The American Dream Project

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Brought to you by Cole Haan and Happy Marshall’s American Dream Project.

What is the American Dream? Is it still alive today? And if so, who for?

Every day we are bombarded with bad news — about jobs, debt, climate change and the vanishing middle class. We worry about the things that divide us. But how often do we hear stories of the true spirit of everyday Americans?

It feels like the American Dream is still an open question.

James Marshall explores this theme in his American Dream Project — a multi-part series documenting a cross country motorcycle trip from New York City to Los Angeles. James and his friend Todd Williams took off armed with just $250, their wits, and a sense of adventure. Their journey was guided by a single aphorism: “There are more good people than bad. We have more in common than not.”


ADP_5

James’ objective was simple: reverse the negative sentiment Americans and the media are (more often than not) associating with “America.” By using social media to connect with people, plot their course, put a roof over their heads at night and work for their keep, they were able to document and showcase that The American Dream and the optimistic spirit that built this country is very much so still alive. Check out more stills from the journey below.

Watch the American Dream Project series here.

Episodes of Eating Children in Ancient Greece, Ranked in Order of Unreasonableness

tereus5. If anyone has ever had a good reason to kill and serve their own child for dinner (they haven’t), Procne did (even though she didn’t). After Procne’s husband, Tereus, raped her sister, Procne took revenge the only way ancient Greeks knew how: She killed their son, Itys, and fed him to his father. According to the myth, at some point during the meal, Tereus said, “Hey, where’s Itys? We should have him here with us,” lobbing Procne the best straight man line in ancient history.p

It’s worth noting that Procne was the only child-server not punished by the gods for her actions; to aid their escape from Tereus, Zeus turned her into a swallow and her sister into a nightingale. Being turned into a bird is perhaps ambiguous—reward and punishment—but it mostly depends on the type of bird.