Thursday, August 21st, 2014

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.


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.


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


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.



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.


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.



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


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


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.



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).



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


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.


What Happens When 'The Simpsons' Becomes Dad Humor?

Grandpa_Suitcases1. Hey-hey

Nothing lasts forever. Take me: I used to be a medium-funny guy. You could count on me to bring a reliable number of chuckles to social occasions. I wasn’t hilarious, but I made sure to get a few solid laughs at parties, galas, potlucks, and ad hoc social gatherings.

These days, I don’t know what’s going on. Every once in a while, when I crack wise or make a seemingly-sly reference, the oddest thing happens. A few people laugh, but others just look at me, their faces like ash. In those panicky moments when I wait for the bombed joke to pass, a fear grips my bowels. Perhaps the fear: 

I’m getting old.

The worst part is, I recognize the look I’m getting. It’s the same look I give my dad whenever he makes a joke that, despite having the contours of humor, doesn’t quite hit me in the gut. Even if it seems well made, it just doesn’t make me laugh. It’s too… foreign.

What’s weird about my current predicament is that I know fully well the lineage of my sense of humor. Everything that I think of as “funny” was filtered through years of loving, referencing, and digesting the comedy aesthetic of golden era Simpsons.

As a formal foundation for jokes, you could do worse. In true modernist tradition, early Simpsons episodes emphasized structure, lasting cultural references, and finely-honed layers of complexity. What’s more, everybody else was watching the same show.

“Funny” only becomes possible when people share the same points of reference. Without sympathetic context, there’s no way to subvert expectations. But nowadays, I don’t know, man. Against the modernist tendencies employed by early Simpsons, today’s internet-heavy conditions seem rabidly post-modern, with an emphasis on the eradication of structure, a flurry of rapid re-mixes, and the invention of new grammars and patois that dissolve as soon as they are understood.

Culture has moved on from The Simpsons, despite the show’s unwillingness to pass into comedy Valhalla. In other words, Simpsons is becoming dad humor: structures so well trod that they can never again surprise, no matter how perfectly crafted. The aesthetic earmarks of this mid-90s humor juggernaut are becoming as antiquated as puns and pies-in-the-face. 

If this trend continues, it seems likely that it will occur in stages, as more and more young and influential people are unaware of the debt we owe to the likes of Groening, Meyer, Swartzwelder, et al. Compared to the emerging humor aesthetic, the old-school modernist approach will look like it’s for effete try-hards, instead of the cool culture-jammers of the future.

What does that mean? Where does that take us?

I don’t know about you, but my cartography’s all fucked up. I want to map out this structure, and try to see what happens when this style of joking becomes isolated and misunderstood, like dads the world over. READ MORE


The Lost Section

6514072343_38ea9b90ba_zHere is a weird thing about the technology section of the most important newspaper in America: A number of its biggest stars have left in recent months. While reporters at large papers frequently move around and often change beats—especially at the Times—all of these reporters continue to cover technology, just not from the tech desk. Nick Bilton, its most famous writer, who lives in the future and watched Twitter get hatched, now runs his "Disruptions" column in the Styles section; Claire Cain Miller now covers "tech + gender/work/family" at the Times' explainer site, the Upshot; Jenna Wortham, its brightest star, recently decamped for Sunday Business, where she continues to cover technology and culture; and it was announced the other week that David Stretfield, a Pulitzer Prize-winner for his work on the Times' remarkable iEconomy series about Apple's supply chain, while not technically leaving the technology desk, was taking on a "wider role as an enterprise correspondent" and would "contribute pieces to other sections of the paper, including the Sunday Magazine, and will expand his portfolio to take on topics beyond tech."

These moves are partly because the tech desk is tightly circumscribed, in both content and form, by its placement within and subservient to the business section, a structure that, to the outside world, makes less and less sense every day. This is why other sections, in particular Styles, always free to cover whatever, have been been able to colonize the far more interesting and fertile field of cultural technology coverage at a relentless pace. (Even many of the technology section's occasionally ambitious and captivating stories about how technology is changing how we live that truly intersect with business, like Vindu Goel's piece on how Facebook sold us krill oil, have been published in Sunday Business.) READ MORE


Polly Asks: New York Magazine Wants Me to Write Ask Polly For Them. Should I Tell Them to Piss Off?

byeDear Readers,

I need to tell you a story. That means this will be just like every other Ask Polly column, except this story is a little longer than usual, and at first, when you read it, you'll ask, "Where's the tepid dude of the week?" Just bear with me.

In September of 2012, after reading and admiring The Awl for years, and writing a few short humor pieces for them, I sent Choire Sicha an email. 

Subject: Existential advice column
That's what I should be writing for The Awl.

Come on, pay me a tiny bit and it's yours! Just enough $ so my husband doesn't roll his eyes and spit whenever he hears the word "Awl."

Choire's one-word reply was:


Two days later, I sent in my first column and The Awl published it, and thus began one of the best gigs of my career. My first editor, Carrie Frye, let the term "pious fuckwinder' run in my second column. My second editor, Choire, was even more tolerant of dubious strings of adjectives. (He also once forgot to pay me for five months, but when I responded with a three-thousand-word screed on the madness of freelance writing, he sent me a check and published my screed and paid me for that, too.) My third editor, Matt Buchanan, let the term "dickweasel" run. In a world full of pious fuckwinders and dickweasels, in other words, The Awl is an island of sanity, and originality, and humility. I had hoped to never leave. READ MORE


On Hair, There and Everywhere, and Intra-Cultural Shame

dem brows

“A girl told me today that I would be a lot prettier if I got my eyebrows threaded. So I told her she’d be a lot prettier if she got surgery to turn her fivehead into a forehead!!”

File that one under the “swing and a miss” column of my sick burn top hits listicle, but biting wit notwithstanding, my mother was unperturbed.

“Maybe you should start threading your eyebrows,” she conceded, staring fervently at the thicket perched above my nose like it was an unsolvable calculus problem.

I was not expecting that response. I was nine.


Any article trending on the Internet right now can tell you how difficult growing up female is, but let me make it clear: growing up female and Indian is about 100x worse. Thanks to my follicular birthright, I was covered in body hair – not just that adorable little unibrow, or even the wispy mustache that would put prepubescent teenage boys to shame, but wrist to shoulder, leg to ladypart thick black hair. The longest relationship I’ve ever been in, 16 years and counting, has been with the nice Indian lady who threads and waxes me bare – a woman who, despite being so skilled at hair removal she made it a career, once commented, “I just don’t understand why your chin hair is so stubborn.” (Me either, Roma Auntie, but I agree with you, it does seem like laser hair removal has really helped, right?)

If you were interviewing me to be an entry-level management consultant at your top four firm, and – in lieu of asking me how many ping pong balls I thought could fit into a Boeing-737 – asked how many hours I’ve spent in my life removing body hair, I wouldn’t just estimate that shit to show you my thinking. I can give you cold hard numbers. 18 years, seven minutes of leg shaving every three days, one hour of arm waxing, eyebrow threading, and myriad other ways to “clean up” the rest of my face every three weeks, and I’m staring down the barrel of 723 and one half hours. Throw on another half hour of laser hair removal (saying nothing of the time I spent crying in the car after laser hair removal, because it hurts that badly), and that’s 30 days of my life dedicated to maintaining the image that I was, as Leonardo DiCaprio puts it in The Wolf of Wall Street, “hairless from the eyebrows down.” READ MORE


Ryn Weaver, "Stay Low"

A nice counterpoint to Weaver's "Promises" and "OctaHate." Never quite an anthem but not nearly a downer.


Questions We Ask the Oldest People

Can you imagine reading a story like this about yourself?

A 111-year-old retired Japanese educator who enjoys poetry has been recognized as the world's oldest living man…

Asked how he felt about the record, Momoi pushed his back upright and said he wants to live longer.

"Say, another two years," he said.

Momoi said he enjoys reading books, especially Chinese poetry, and sometimes practices calligraphy.

He said there is no special trick for his longevity, but his caregivers say Momoi keeps early hours and eats healthy, according to NHK public television.

It's always the same pattern with these wire stories:

Oldest person, do you think you have long left?

I hope so, like most other people I do not want to die.

Oldest person, what are your hobbies?

I have some, I wish I had started more. I wish I had started a lot of things.

Oldest person, what is your secret?

Sleep, eating well. Do those count as secrets? Surely not. My friends did these things too and they are all gone, now.

You were alive during [war] and [major event in world history], and before [technology].


Oldest person, thank you for your time, my job is done and yours is too. I'll talk to your family right after you die!

Thank you, too. Now I must reckon, privately and in public, with the fact that I am the oldest man on Earth and still know nothing.

I think I would skip my turn, if possible.


Bethany Beach, Delaware, August 18, 2014

weather review sky 081814★★★★ Sun found the splinter or stray cactus spine in a finger, a tiny golden spark for the tweezers (turning to avoid the tweezer-shadows) to surround and snuff. Pine cones lay everywhere; the two-year-old had to be dissuaded from expanding his collection of them to three and beyond. The ocean was rougher than before, with chunks of seaweed in it and a bobbing lump of foam garbage, but out beyond the churn it was still soothing to float in. At the trolley stop in the afternoon, the sun experimented with severity, but was mollified by a cloud. A rabbit sprinted alongside the trolley for a few strides, then veered off. The trolley rolled past trim, modest houses, then past an unfinished ostentatious house. A cool breeze blew through the wooden interior.  A hawk flapped by with one wing notched by a missing primary. Out on the boardwalk, the air moved in warm and cold layers, like the water. The two-year-old went on a stomping run, xylophonic footsteps advancing down the boards. Across from the concrete pillars of the seaside hotel construction site, two goldfinches, plumage unreal in its schematic boldness, perched on bobbing grass stems at the crest of the dunes.


"It’s Uber, but for Golden Parachutes"

The two-way path between government, politics, and private industry, densely shaded by lush money trees, is so well-worn it seems to have been carved by the finger of God, a well-known capitalist, long ago. And yet, fresh trade routes establish themselves all the time. David Plouffe, the man who successfully convinced a majority of the United States in 2008 that Barack Obama would change the country for the better, is now going to make the same argument for Uber, a service that seeks to deeply weave itself into the infrastructure of cities in order to make as much money as possible. Meanwhile, Kara Swisher notes, former Obama press secretary Jay Carney "is still in the running to take over the top comms job at Apple."

This was inevitable; we were warned. Silcon Valley once believed that—whether by dint of its vast sums of money, its increasingly intimate role in the lives of a billion people, or mass delusion—that it was beyond the reach of politics. It has discovered, perhaps via machine learning, that it is like any other titanic industry that has come before it: Why evade power when you can wield it?


Dude Text Decoded

I just wanna leave my number.

We dudes can be a confusing, emotionally constipated, nearly-illiterate group of horndogs with smartphones. And since it’s 2014 and most people are paralyzed by the idea of speaking into a phone receiver, we must fumble our path to fornication via cryptic texts which barely constitute as flirting, let alone communication, most of the time.

But hey! I’m a dumb dude with thumbs and a libido! So let me pull back the Old Spice-scented curtain and let you peek inside the mind of the modern bro’s texting intentions:

hey = I am scared, unfathomably scared.

sup? = Please do not discover my insane insecurities, I do not feel cool. Ever.

what are you up to tonight? = I can’t even begin to explain the intense, deep loneliness brewing within me and one more night alone, eating cheeseburgers in my underwear, watching The Wire (have you seen The Wire?) is such a daunting dive into the abyss that I will undoubtedly break. READ MORE