The Convergence of the Dude

Illustration by Katie Barnwell

Last week, the internet found the Ugly Christmas Suit, a polyester three-piece that made the ghosts of ugly Christmas sweaters past look like tasteful cardigans. Among the numerous write-ups was a two-fists-up review from Total Frat Move, the website responsible for the #TFM hashtag (used 108,000 times on Instagram). “This suit is for getting drunk and hitting on your boss’s daughter when he’s right in front of you. This suit is for attempting to snowboard in an urban area. This suit is for falling into the eggnog bowl,” it advised.

The Ugly Christmas Suit was designed by a company in the Netherlands, but it’s clearly appealing to an American niche. That’s the crowd who, for the past few years, have turned Ugly Christmas Sweaters into $80 purchases and the streets of NYC into debauched mosh pits of drunk Santas: bros who love to dress up.

Yes, bros who love to dress up. Once known for khaki pants and New Balances, bros are becoming increasingly experimental with their fashion choices. Look through hashtags and blogs linked to Greek culture and you’ll see it: rushers in head-to-toe ’80s leopard prints, muscled ravers at EDM concerts, college football players with retro facial hair. At the very moment when “normal” is trending on net-art Tumblrs, loud self-expression via clothing is dominating frat parties from USC (Trojans) to USC (Gamecocks).

Let’s call them the Williamsbros.

A Poem By Tomás Q. Morín

Extraordinary Rendition

                                for Philip Levine

When the CIA said, An extraordinary rendition
has been performed
, I knew Lester Young
blowing his saxophone in that way he did
when Billie Holiday was a few feet away
smoking, singing “I Can’t Get Started,”
was not what they had in mind. No, the agent
at the podium talking to reporters
who spends most of his days staring
at computer screens riddled with numbers
and names and maps of places he’s never been
probably thought of a man in a hood
far from home swimming
in a room flooded with questions.

Why the Museum Is Closed

Alumni Giving Season

giving seasonIt’s the holiday season again, which means it’s that time of year when universities try to raise more money from their alumni. Every year around this time, I start getting a call every day from an unknown number. At first, I ignore it, thinking it’s a wrong number. But I eventually realize that it’s someone calling from one of the universities I’ve attended and that they are not going to stop until they talk to an actual person.

Last year, I had been avoiding the call for a few weeks when, getting off the metro, I answered my phone without checking the number. In the past, I’ve always listened politely to the plea for cash before saying a firm-but-polite “no, thank you.”

This time, the NYU student on the phone said a donation would mean a lot to her, a scholarship student, because alumni donations go to scholarships. I graduated from NYU more than 10 years ago, and paid for it with a combination of scholarships cobbled together from multiple sources, my parents’ and grandparents’ savings, and student loans. But I couldn’t have gone without the scholarship I received from NYU—a discount on tuition, really—so the call caught my attention.

Alumni fundraising calls and their email and snail mail equivalents have always irked me. There is something so audacious about asking former students for donations—particularly if those former students still owe thousands of dollars in student loans. It’s even worse when the university you graduated from gave subsidized loans to professors and administrators, including the current U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, for second homes and built brand new campuses in China and Abu Dhabi.

“There’s a sense in Washington, DC—especially in the defense community, that these things are inevitable. Some say that we should just get used to it. They’re irritated that we’ve come along now, that we’re starting to ask questions about this.”
—Mary Wareham, advocacy director for the arms division of Human Rights Watch, discusses her organization’s coordination of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.#

December 12, 2014: Californians Terrorized by Sky-Liquid

More important: the Millions March is Saturday at 2 p.m. in Washington Square Park.

New York City, December 10, 2014

★★★ Yet another dim morning. A thin cold rain became thin wet snow, only distinguishable from rain at first when it landed and stuck to a dark wool coat sleeve. Then it was visible as falling snow, and then the snow was heavier, the flakes twisting different ways in the air. Metal was slippery. On an afternoon walk, the flakes covered the front of the coat. A delivery crew offloaded shrink-banded bundles of firewood and fed them through a service door. In the evening dark the snow was picturesque and unpleasant, swirling with vague aggression. It stuck to parked construction equipment, clung to a dirty and jagged-tipped traffic cone. Up by the movie theater, it pulled the eye away from the floodlit tented red carpet to the ordinary unsheltered glow of the streetlights

“Sooner or later in life,” wrote the great Primo Levi, “everyone discovers that perfect happiness is unrealizable, but there are few who pause to consider the antithesis: that perfect unhappiness is equally unattainable. The obstacles preventing the realization of both these extreme states are of the same nature: they derive from our human condition which is opposed to everything infinite. Our ever-insufficient knowledge of the future opposes it: and this is called, in the one instance, hope, and in the other, uncertainty of the following day. The certainty of death opposes it: for it places a limit on every joy, but also on every grief. The inevitable material cares oppose it: for as they poison every lasting happiness, they equally assiduously distract us from our misfortunes and make our consciousness of them intermittent and hence supportable.” On the other hand, actress Jennifer Aniston notes of her Golden Globe-nominated performance in Cake, “I think getting down and dirty and doing a darker part has made people think, ‘Oh, there’s something different there.’ But I feel like I’ve always been here, and maybe I’ve just latched onto something. I’m just happy to have done it, to prove to myself more importantly that I can indeed take on whatever it is that I want. All of us actors have to be reminded that these characters are within us, that we just need the opportunity to dig deep and pull them out,” so who’s to say?#

“Failure to tackle drug-resistant infections will lead to at least 10 million extra deaths a year and cost the global economy up to $100tn (£64tn) by 2050…. The stark figures, published on Thursday, and believed to be the first to quantify the potential impact of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) – drug-resistant infections or superbugs – will be used to make the case to global leaders that urgent action is needed. To put the figures in context there are currently 8.2 million deaths a year from cancer and annual global GDP stands at $70tn to $75tn, with the UK figure around $3tn. Former Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O’Neill, who chaired the report, said AMR represents a more certain threat than climate change in the short term.”#

Madison Is A Great Small City, Unless You're Black

lars-and-the-real-girl-wisconsinI am at the age where my old friends drop into NYC to visit me every summer and ask me how long I plan to live here. They are Midwesterners who wonder if I’ll move back to Wisconsin now that I’ve been here for eleven years and have a son. They ask how I could “take advantage of it all.” They deploy the argument about the crushing cost of living, no matter how much I insist that my husband and I are doing okay on that front for now. My hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, sometimes hovers in my mind during these talks, because it’s much cheaper and has public schools that will admit my son without requiring an application, an interview, or an IQ test. Yet Madison has never felt like a place I could return to — because I’m black.

I realize this sentiment contradicts everything that everyone on earth has ever heard about super-liberal Madison. It also doesn’t make sense at first because cops don’t kill unarmed blacks in Madison, and are unafraid to do so here, as in the cases of Eric Garner, Amadou Diallo, and so  many others. But during my eleven years in New York I have been spared so much of the day-to-day indignities growing up black in Madison showered upon me. In New York, I am allowed to relax to a degree I never dreamed possible in Madison. I can be just another black face on Flatbush Avenue or in Soho or Harlem. I am not regularly asked to represent an entire race of people.

Madison is a white town where my blackness is still constantly pointed out to me as if I am somehow unaware of its existence. Black people nod to me on the street as if we belong to a secret club. The owner of my favorite ice cream shop felt no shame in saying “I just think of you as the interracial couple” to my husband and me when we asked her if she, after seven or eight years of visits, wanted to know our names. We left without giving our names and never went back.