Shared posts

22 Apr 18:05

Two Medieval Monks Invent Maps

by Mallory Ortberg

Previously: Two monks invent Renaissance art.

MONK #1: what does Hell look like?
MONK #2: big upside-down beehive



MONK #1: What is the population of the world
like how many people do you think live in it
MONK #2: three at the absolute most
but they’re all enormous



MONK #2: what are you drawing right now
MONK #1: yeah
MONK #2: you should put in a warning about lions
because there might be lions there
in Asia
and people need to know
MONK #1: are there lions in Asia?
MONK #2: yeah
I mean if I were a lion
that’s the first place I’d go
MONK #1: okay I’ll put something in there
MONK #2: draw him bigger
MONK #1: what?
MONK #2: Draw the lion bigger
just in case the lions there are also giants
MONK #1: how do you know the lions there are giants?
MONK #2: I mean
how do you know the lions there aren’t giants
MONK #1: good point



MONK #1: wait remind me of what Asia looks like when you put it all together at once
MONK #2: a big horse with wings that’s about to eat Europe
MONK #1: right right thanks
MONK #2: no problem



MONK #1: what does Europe look like compared to all the other continents
MONK #2: exactly the same
but pointing in different directions and shaded in different colors
MONK #1: so like Africa, but going north?
MONK #2: exactly
MONK #1: oh wow, it looks like a bunch of flower petals!
MONK #2: pretty cool right



MONK #1: what’s the nearest country to Scotland
MONK #2: a giant lobster


MONK #1: how do I draw England
MONK #2: however you want
doesn’t matter
MONK #1: really?
MONK #2: yeah
make it look like a messed-up dick or whatever, it doesn’t matter


MONK #1: wait but so how much of Scotland is there
MONK #2: I told you
it doesn’t matter
MONK #1: no no I know
but just like, I’m curious
MONK #2: barely any
there’s barely any Scotland at all



MONK #1: what surrounds the earth
MONK #2: mm
some guys trying to blow on us
horrible red chaos


‘MONK #2: oh and one giant man trying to shoot an arrow at us



MONK #2: hey idk if I forgot to tell you this but all of Asia is mostly just one enormous castle



MONK #1: what does the whole world look like when you put it all together
MONK #2: weirdly enough
mostly text
like a big O with a T on it
MONK #1: really
MONK #2: yeah, very few pictures or mountain ranges or whatever, mostly just words in Latin



MONK #1: Where does Africa end
MONK #2: oh it doesn’t
just sort of blobs out into Antartica and keeps going around the whole world
MONK #1: oh okay


Read more Two Medieval Monks Invent Maps at The Toast.

15 Apr 19:00

Your New Hero: Mongolia’s 13-Year-Old “Eagle Huntress”

by Mallory Ortberg

eagle girlThrow away whatever pet you currently have and take a look at this. The land of Mongolia produces thirteen-year-old girls who eschew Instagram bullying and writing smut about One Direction in favor of hunting with golden eagles. From the BBC:

The Kazakhs of the Altai mountain range in western Mongolia are the only people that hunt with golden eagles, and today there are around 400 practising falconers. Ashol-Pan, the daughter of a particularly celebrated hunter, may well be the country’s only apprentice huntress.

(It is well, well worth clicking through, if only to get a look at Asher Svidensky’s photo gallery of Ashol-Pan. There is a picture of her nuzzling a golden eagle as it wraps its wings around her.)

The eagles are not bred in captivity, but taken from nests at a young age. Female eaglets are chosen since they grow to a larger size – a large adult might be as heavy as seven kilos, with a wingspan of over 230cm. After years of service, on a spring morning, a hunter releases his mature eagle a final time, leaving a butchered sheep on the mountain as a farewell present. “That’s how the Kazakh eagle hunters make sure that the eagles go back to nature and have their own strong newborns, for the sake of future generations,” Svidensky says.

I make jokes about movies on the Internet. I am nothing; I am less than nothing. I have never left an offering of thanks on a mountain for a golden eagle that served at my side. 

It is all I can do to keep from flinging my cat out the door in disgust, for he has never leapt from my arm off a wind-blown steppe in order to catch a fox for me. He is an idler, a trifler, and a blood-sucking non-producer, and I am no better. Ashol-Pan, I do not deserve to inhabit the same planet as you. I will endeavor to make myself worthy of you for the rest of my life, you eagle-wielding teen who strides the narrow world.

[Image via BBC]

Read more Your New Hero: Mongolia’s 13-Year-Old “Eagle Huntress” at The Toast.

08 Apr 15:00

“Filles du Roi”: Come Visit Scenic New France in the 17th Century

by Lindsey Palka

Lindsey Palka last wrote for The Toast about What Katy Did.

Today we forget how hard it was to leave home in the past. We can video chat our loved ones on the other side of the world, text them our every thought within a second, fly (in an emergency) to visit them in a day. Would you leave home if it meant you would probably never return? That you would almost certainly never see your loved ones again and only exchange letters once or twice a year? Hundreds of young French women made that trip and exchanged their existing lives for an adventure that would last their whole lives.

Known in French as the “Filles du Roi” or in English as the “King’s Daughters,” just under eight hundred young women, most of whom were between 15 and 25, were sponsored by the king to marry in New France between 1665 and 1675 to help settle the area. Not to be confused with the king’s actual daughters (three daughters by his queen and six or more illegitimate girls), they were given the name to demonstrate that they were his wards and it was their job to create this new society. Many were orphans, some were from upper-class but destitute families, but all shared a ready sense of adventure and a lack of other options.

Now imagine very seriously for a moment that you are about to embark on the biggest adventure of your life. That you are lying in bed—probably unable to sleep—and that tomorrow you will board a wooden ship and sail what could be six weeks or could be three months. You will sleep in a narrow, hard bunk that you may share with another young woman you do not know. You will have no fresh food or fresh water. The ship may capsize. Fever might break out. Someone, or quite possibly several people, will probably die. Once you make it to Canada, there are no cities to greet you. And when you get there you will marry someone you have never met and start a new life.


And once you get there, the life will not be anything like the life you have known. Every task we take for granted today is a major physical job—cooking three meals a day from scratch, using vegetables you’ve grown and preserved yourself, and meat you’ve raised and slaughtered yourself, using an open fire in a hearth. Spinning your own thread and weaving your own cloth, if you raise sheep, but certainly making all of your own clothes, and those of your husband and children. Washing the clothes and linens in an iron kettle over an open fire, using soap you’ve made yourself, and mending them after they inevitably begin to wear out. Keeping your house clean from the ever-present soot and dirt and ash, washing your dishes in a basin and scouring them with sand, sweeping with a broom made of tree boughs.

If you live on a farm you will take part in the farm labour as well—not only looking after chickens and milking cows, but actively helping with the planting, the harvest, and millions of other tasks a farm demands. All of this will take place in the sweltering heat of summer without air-conditioning and the numbing cold of winter in an uninsulated house with no central heat. And if all goes according to plan, you will do all of this while pregnant, breastfeeding, and looking after small children, until you enter menopause, at which point you will do all of the above work but at least you will not be pregnant.

And you will have very few neighbours, for New France in the 1660s was still quite a lonely place. Although Jacques Cartier had claimed the Gaspe peninsula for France in 1534 (ninety years before the Pilgrims would appear, shivering, on the Massachusetts shore), the colony lacked direction. Fishermen who didn’t mind deprivation spent summers there before returning to Europe, and when the wealth of fur was discovered, trappers began to flock to the woods.  For the next several decades, New France attracted young single men in search of money, adventure, and danger, though not necessarily in that order. By the time Quebec City was established in 1608, there were barely two dozen permanent white residents of New France. Few families were willing to stay permanently in a distant wilderness replete with dangerous wild animals, very few other white people, and terribly harsh winters. Thirty years later the population was still only 355–partially due to the poor conditions, and partially to poor mismanagement by the fur trading companies. Relations with the local Iroquois and Algonquin groups were constantly tense and did not make it any easier to attract families to the area.

New France had a wealth of resources, but by the 1650s it was verging on becoming a failed colony. There were a few hundred colonists, but they were mostly young, single men and a smattering of families. Married couples and families in France were unwilling to uproot themselves to a dangerous land, and there were vanishingly few young women with the means and desire to pay their own way to Quebec. In order to build a stable population, you must have families; and in order to have families, you must have childbearing women.

There were women in New France already, of course. Native women very occasionally married a white explorer, but it was not a common or popular choice among both groups. Mixed-race children were not unknown in the area, but for the vast majority of white explorers, a white wife was non-negotiable. White women had been in Quebec since 1639, with the creation of the Ursuline Convent. The nuns were expected to provide a moral and stabilizing force to the Catholic colony and to teach young Native girls English, therefore allowing them to become intermediaries between the two populations. However, since neither nuns nor Native women were viable marriage options for the vast majority of French men, the major issue remained.

Portrait_de_Jean_Talon_(éclaircie)Jean Talon was named Intendant of New France—a sort of head honcho representative for the French government—in 1665, and his solution was simple: Import women with no other options. It is families that settle colonies, not single adventurers, and Talon knew that to go much longer with such an unstable population may doom the whole enterprise. Imagine New France as a rowdy frat full of wild young men, and Jean Talon as their slightly anxious parent who keeps telling them “Don’t you think it’s time you found a nice girl and settled down?” And expediting that process by arranging for almost eight hundred “nice girls” to show up at the doorstep.

The king thought the idea nothing short of genius, and arranged to pay for the passage of the women, along with a dowry consisting of money, some clothing, and a few household items like one hundred needles and a thousand pins. (Sewing needles and pins were invaluable items–used daily, easy to lose in a room lit by firelight or candlelight, and nearly impossible to make a homemade replacement for.) The women were selected to be hard-working, devoutly Catholic, good-natured, and above all, willing to go.

The most amazing thing was that it worked. Although the filles du roi were overwhelmingly poor, and many orphans, none were forced to make the trip. Many were from farming backgrounds, and girls raised in French orphanages at the time would have been expected to have learned all necessary household skills and to do them well. Three-quarters of the women married within a month of their arrival, and most of the remaining quarter did not wait much longer. Several couples realized after their first dizzy meetings that their partnership may not have been the best idea, and broken-off engagements were not unusual nor looked down on. A very few women returned to France with their new husbands, but the vast majority married and began large families, just as the king had intended. The population began to swell as most filles du roi had at least six children, and seven to nine was more common.  Ten was not unheard of. Mother Marie de l’Incarnation, the head of the Ursuline convent that had been a temporary home to most filles du roi before their marriages, declared: “It is surprising how very many exceptionally good-looking children are born every year.” In later years, children born to these families were described by a later Intendant as “tall, well-made, and strikingly handsome.”

Many attribute Quebec’s unique set of circumstances, including its exceptionally high fertility rate well into the twentieth century, directly to the role of the filles du roi. By deliberately choosing women who would be hard-working and strictly Catholic, and encouraging them with state support to bear large families, the French crown created a culture that valued these qualities in its families. Quebec’s history has been irreversibly shaped by these women–young women who chose a life they knew would not be easy and that would take them away from everything they knew. How many of us could make a trip where the stakes were so high and stay there forever? How many of us would want to?

Read more “Filles du Roi”: Come Visit Scenic New France in the 17th Century at The Toast.

04 Apr 21:54

Wes Anderson’s music supervisor made playlists for each character in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

by Alex Moore
Wes Anderson’s music supervisor made playlists for each character in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

Randall Poster, the go-to music supervisor for Wes Anderson, Martin Scorcese and many others, has earned a reputation for bringing his music to life with inspired music choices. Working with Anderson he’s helped turned fans onto a trove of music that otherwise would have gone forgotten, from Emitt Rhodes to Peter Sarstedt.

As if the music from Wes’s excellent new movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel” wasn’t already fantastic enough, Poster has now made Spotify playlists for each of the movie’s characters for your browsing pleasure. There’s plenty of classical in there (M. Gustav is a classy motherfucker) but there’s also lots of obscure music that will likely constitute new discoveries. A little disappointing is that there’s no playlist for Zero, but leisure time for music listening probably isn’t in his lifestyle anyway.

Listen here.

Also, Poster did a Reddit AMA Friday afternoon. When asked what new music we should be listening to, he name-checked Lo-Fang. If you’re not familiar, check out a couple songs below.

31 Mar 23:08

OkCupid blocks Firefox due to its homophobic CEO

by Joe Veix
OkCupid blocks Firefox due to its homophobic CEO

On Monday popular dating slash casual hookup site OkCupid started blocking the Mozilla Firefox browser. The reason? Mozilla just appointed Brendan Eich as its CEO, who in 2008 donated $1,000 to support the passing of California’s Prop 8, a statewide ban on gay marriage. Not only does he dislike gay marriage, but he’s invested money in his homophobia.

So now, when Firefox users visit OkCupid, they’re greeted with a statement explaining their motives behind the block. Once users scroll to the bottom, they may continue on to the site, but only after being offered alternative browsers.

Their statement reads in full:

Hello there, Mozilla Firefox user. Pardon this interruption of your OkCupid experience.

Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples. We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OkCupid.

Politics is normally not the business of a website, and we all know there’s a lot more wrong with the world than misguided CEOs. So you might wonder why we’re asserting ourselves today. This is why: we’ve devoted the last ten years to bringing people—all people—together. If individuals like Mr. Eich had their way, then roughly 8% of the relationships we’ve worked so hard to bring about would be illegal. Equality for gay relationships is personally important to many of us here at OkCupid. But it’s professionally important to the entire company. OkCupid is for creating love. Those who seek to deny love and instead enforce misery, shame, and frustration are our enemies, and we wish them nothing but failure.

If you want to keep using Firefox, the link at the bottom will take you through to the site.

However, we urge you to consider different software for accessing OkCupid:

Google ChromeInternet ExploderOpera Safari

Thank you,

Mozilla responded with a statement, in part:

Mozilla’s mission is to make the Web more open so that humanity is stronger, more inclusive and more just. This is why Mozilla supports equality for all, including marriage equality for LGBT couples. No matter who you are or who you love, everyone deserves the same rights and to be treated equally.

Which is all well and good, except in the entire statement, they don’t bother to address their CEO’s homophobia, which is somewhat shady, and just dodges the issue entirely.

h/t Valleywag

07 Mar 15:00

Femslash Friday: Carmen Sandiego and Miss Scarlet

by Mallory Ortberg

Previously on Femslash Friday, we’ve cut abusive tools loose and given fictional women the keys to direct their own lives. Today I want to talk about a board game character and a pretend lady from a game show for kids that prominently featured a capella music who stole stuff like “the history of medicine” and the leaning tower of Pisa, because it’s important to me that Miss Scarlet from Clue and Carmen Sandiego from Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego (oh, here’s a link to the damn song, go listen to it; I know you won’t be able to pay attention until you do) steal some diamonds and run off together into the sunset. A sexy board game piece and the evil female Indiana Jones? Yeah, I’m on board. It’s like two Catwomans (Catwomen?) getting married: awesome.

miss scarletThis is definitely the purest “Because I run this website” entry in the Femslash series. They’re not literary or even cinematic characters. Carmen Sandiego barely talks; Miss Scarlet is from a children’s board game. I can’t even claim the 1985 movie as part of this because I played the game all the time when I was a kid before I saw it so I never picture White Miss Scarlet when I think of her, just Regular Asian Miss Scarlet. I just feel like putting the two of them together, even though they don’t exist in the same game continuity, and I still own 1/3rd of this website so there’s nothing you can do about it; sorry.

There was a Clue-themed series of children’s mystery books, and they were terrible, and I loved them. The premise was always the same: for some reason Mr. Boddy was this very cheerful, fabulously wealthy naïf who was only best friends with murderous jewel thieves. He was like the Bertie Wooster of getting murdered. And I can’t find any quotes from the series online, but the setup would always be something like…oh, they’re all over watching a movie in Mr. Boddy’s screening room and everyone gets popcorn, but Miss Scarlet has popcorn with no butter and no salt and Mrs. Peacock has popcorn with salt and no butter and Mr. Green has popcorn with salt and butter (and so on), which becomes important later in identifying the killer, somehow, in a way I can’t quite remember. And then Mr. Boddy would show them all his latest treasure, and they’d all make punning asides to themselves about killing him and stealing it. So, say he had a new ruby-encrusted peacock statue, he’d show it to them and they’d all go into their killer inner monologues:

Birds of a feather flock together, thought Miss Scarlet, and I’ll have the finest feathers of them all once I’ve got that bird.

Mr. Boddy’s as dead as a dodo, thought Mr. Green.

Getting that peacock from Mr. Boddy will be as easy as duck soup, thought Mrs. White, and afterwards I’ll be free as a bird. 

I’ll be mad as a wet hen if I don’t get my hands on that statue, thought Colonel Mustard.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, thought Professor Plum, and Mr. Boddy’s a real bird-brain if he thinks he’s going to keep it away from me. 

I shouldn’t count my chickens before they’re hatched, thought Mrs. Peacock. Better keep an eagle eye on that statue the rest of the night.

That sort of thing. I just ate that shit up, I don’t know why. Oh, but by the end of every book you’d find out that Mr. Boddy wasn’t really dead, and you’d find out who tried to steal the artifact, and they’d begrudgingly give it back, and then for some horrible reason he’d invite them back to his mansion the next week. If Bruce Wayne wasn’t also Batman and suffered from weekly amnesia, he’d be Mr. Boddy, and Miss Scarlet would be his Catwoman.

Anyhow, Miss Scarlet was clearly the best of all of them because she was the only young hottie in a group of withered old chefs and ex-army dudes and non-tenured professors. She should have had a flock of Young Hottie friends. Look, if you’re a certain type of girl who grows up preferring a particular set of activities your only role models/avatars are Princess Peach and Miss Scarlet. You don’t want to be Princess Peach, necessarily, but you owe it to yourself and to women in general to select her instead of the toadstool guy when you’re playing Mario Kart, you know? Anyhow, Miss Scarlet meant a lot to me as a kid.

carmen sandiegoYou know what else meant a lot to me as a kid? Youth-oriented game shows that required an appreciation for a capella vocal work and a hell of a lot of geography knowledge. You see where I’m going with this, obviously. Carmen Sandiego is, luckily, of the same exact moral alignment as Miss Scarlet — she loves to steal and she loves to blow shit up, but nobody ever gets hurt and she never gets in any real trouble. She’s as stern as Batman but not even 1/25th as serious, which is an important distinction. She just wears giant hats and gets to live wherever she wants and never has to, like, walk home and then pay a bill and then fall asleep watching The Simpsons on her laptop. Her life’s aces. And what’s more aces than two brilliant, talented jewel thieves of color falling in love and taking on the world together? Nothing, that’s what.

Do you need more convincing? Let me present you with a meet-cute for the damn ages:

scarletcarmenfinal1“You’re never going to get the diamond out that way.”

“Excuse me? I’ve been stealing diamonds since — oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize who it was. Were you…?”

“I was, but you seem to have beat me to it.” Pause for rich and disarming laughter. A puzzling drink over an inquisitive table. Questions in both of their eyes. Then the two of them make a getaway — together. They’re both used to taking off alone.

scarletcarmenfinal02It takes a little getting used to, going somewhere with someone when you’re used to going it alone, but once you make a few adjustments, you find that two can travel just as easily as one.

Roxanne Palmer (alias Roxy Drew) is a cartoonist and science journalist. You can see her stuff at and

Read more Femslash Friday: Carmen Sandiego and Miss Scarlet at The Toast.

21 Mar 22:15

Zadie Smith Interviewed Beyoncé's Favorite Feminist

by Hillary Crosley

Zadie Smith Interviewed Beyoncé's Favorite Feminist

Something awesome happened in New York last night: literature goddesses Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie united in feminist power and rose into the heavens … but before they did, the pair sat down for a long chat at Harlem's Schomburg Center.


07 Mar 16:40

A Townes Van Zandt Playlist

by Alex Balk
by Alex Balk

Today would have been Townes Van Zandt's 70th birthday, so here are some songs. You will of course have your own favorites, unless you are unfamiliar with the work of Townes van Zandt, in which case, oh boy, a whole new world of discovery is about to open itself to you.


The post A Townes Van Zandt Playlist appeared first on The Awl.

13 Feb 17:00

Woman Amazed And Horrified She Has To Just Keep Getting Up And Doing The Same Shit Again Tomorrow

by Mallory Ortberg

daliA local woman crawled into bed last night, defeated and exhausted by nothing more than the thousand small indignities faced by any human being on the planet on any given day, when she was suddenly struck by the horrifying realization that she was going to have to get out of bed and do all of this shit again tomorrow. All of it.

The local woman closed her eyes, momentarily overwhelmed by the prospect of facing a task as simple as putting on a pair of shoes or feeding herself breakfast or listening to another human being just exist even one more goddamn time, much less the thought of doing it in and out, day after day, until she died.

“God,” she thought to herself, “and then I have to do the dishes, too,” and the prospect of a lifetime of dishes — even taken one day or even one meal at a time — was like the threat of murder to her heart. How could something as relatively simple as scrubbing soap over a handful of plates and cups and forks feel so spiritually defeating?

“They’ll just keep coming, the dishes,” she realized. “There will always be a dish to wash, every day of my life. And even if I don’t wash them that day, they’ll still be there. The house will get dirty, and then I’ll have to clean it. It will rain, and I’ll have to close the windows, and then it will get hot out, and I’ll have to open the windows, and I’m worried I’m sitting too much and that I’m alienated from nature in a profound and meaningful way but there’s nothing I can actually do about that because what am I going to do, move to…to ancient Carthaginia and become a farmer?”

“This isn’t an actual problem,” this woman tried to tell herself. “The fact that I have to…do things to exist, that isn’t an actual problem.”

“Which, oh God,” she realized, “means there’s no actual solution.”

As of press time, the woman was seized with the unshakeable realization that no matter when she fell asleep tonight, she’d still have to coax her stupid brain into shutting off and relaxing long enough to fall asleep again tomorrow.

[Image via The Dali]

Read more Woman Amazed And Horrified She Has To Just Keep Getting Up And Doing The Same Shit Again Tomorrow at The Toast.

11 Feb 19:30

Three Women Writers on Supporting Each Other

by Meaghan O'Connell
by Meaghan O'Connell

Cheryl Strayed, Suzy Vitello, and Lidia Yuknavitch are all successful writers who are over 40 and live in Portland. Their writing careers are wildly different — Strayed wrote the bestselling Wild, Vitello is a newly-published YA author, and Yuknavitch writes weirder, indie stuff like the beloved Chronology of Water — but they are all longtime friends who met in a writing group (with Chuck Palahniuk!) almost a decade ago. Rebecca Rubenstein interviewed all three of them for Buzzfeed about how they support each other both as friends and professionally. It is lovely to read about:

SV: Cheryl has been my champion over and over. Connecting me with folks. Singing my praises, reading my work even! In New York! Telling the world that I was the best writer without a book in Portland. But now, I do have a book. So ha!

CS: One of my favorite memories of Lidia and Suzy is in May 2009, when I sold Wild to Knopf based on the first 130 pages of the book. I was flying to NYC to meet my editor for the first time, but I was absolutely flat broke and I couldn’t go shopping for something nice to wear. So Suzy and Lidia came over to my house with heaps of their nicest clothes, and I tried them on and modeled them and together we decided what I should wear. I borrowed a shirt from Lidia, and Suzy gave me a skirt and jacket of hers. It was so sweet. I went to NYC and had my fancy meetings with my editor and I could feel their love there with me, because I was wearing their clothes.

LY: SHARING CLOTHES! That was so cool. I’m probably not supposed to say out loud that these women are among a handful of women who have helped me put food on the table or gas in my car when I was fucking broke and ashamed and desperate. But they did.

I love this, from Lidia Yuknavitch, whose books I need to finally finally read:

I’m pretty sure the three of us represent three different trajectories in terms of publishing experiences… it’s been eye-opening, to say the least, to share our different stories (am I right, you guys?). It helps me remember to shout as often as possible, “THERE IS NO ONE PATH.”

What Cheryl and Suzy and the writers and artists and musicians who have helped me along — including readers — do for me as a writer is insist that, yes, you too have a place at the table. You too are worth a crap. Your stories can sit next to all stories. When I’m most afraid though, it also helps to sit near other women struggling to survive as writers. Suzy and Cheryl are women writers writing for their lives. They know what’s at stake.

10 Feb 15:30

My Last Hundred Bucks: There Is a Baby In My Apartment Edition

by Audrey Ference
by Audrey Ference

Where’d your last hundo go, Audrey Ference?

I just had a kid, and having just had a kid has weirdly not changed my buying things habits that much, because oh my god people are so generous! I have been given as gifts or hand-me-downs (or purchased used for very very cheap) pretty much everything I’ve needed for this baby. I don’t know if it’s the small NYC apartments or needing to repay the karmic debt of all the free stuff they were given, but all my friends and even friend-of-friend acquaintances have given me giant bags of clothes and toys and bottles and expensive playmats and bouncers and diapers and who even knows what. So, shoutout to New York breeder hand-me-down socialism, I guess. Anyway:

$50: Groceries for the current/oncoming snowstorm(s?), nibbles for our book club

$10: Baby fart medicine. My baby has trouble farting. I hope that someday she finds this and reads it. Honey, you are terrible at getting farts out of your butt and I do not think that it’s genetic based on me and your dad.

$20: Wine. Wine that I can drink now because I am no longer pregnant thank god. I got these strips that you can ooze milk onto to tell you if there’s alcohol in your breast milk and you can definitely have a glass or two before the milk gets boozy so no need to call child protective services, it’s fine.

$20+++: Seamless. So much seamless now. I am so lazy about cooking, which I guess I will blame on the baby, but in my heart I know is just general laziness. The thing that used to compel me to not order in was hating to have to talk on the phone and not having enough cash so you know fuck it I’m a grownup and if I want to pay way too much for someone to bring me a soggy burrito that is my prerogative. And I tip well because it’s cold as shit out there.


Audrey Ference lives in New York.

04 Feb 18:00

Neko Case and Calexico, "Ragtime"

by Alex Balk
by Alex Balk

You had me at "Neko Case" but if that had not been enough you would have had me at "and Calexico." This is almost too much of a good thing, but whatever, I'll take it, there is so little joy in my life these days that it would be crazy to complain about a surfeit of such. I give this five !s.


The post Neko Case and Calexico, "Ragtime" appeared first on The Awl.

05 Feb 01:00

Feature: Track By Track: Harmony

by Mess+Noise

Track By Track: Harmony

The making of Harmony’s second album, ‘Carpetbombing’, involved the alienation of a neighbour, a faulty email to Neil Young, superfluous guitar solos, a 60-megaton bomb, many first takes and “the most fucked chorus I have ever had to sing in any band,” writes frontman TOM LYNGCOLN.

‘The Closing of the Day’

How to open an album ... Put the most crushing piece of prose you can imagine first and let it fester. The prose in question I had absolutely nothing to do with beyond correctly outsourcing it. I am an internet punisher. If you have an email address or some kind of social profile in an imaginary social network, I will send you unsolicited emails or messages about shit you have done or things that jag my lobe. I had, however, almost given up on this kind of pursuit after numerous failed unresponsive correspondence with members of Rollins Band and Cameron Daddo's wife during the analog wave. Unfortunately for humanity and privacy, my lunacy was rewarded when a few years back Marc Ribot agreed to contribute to the song ‘Heartache’ off our self-titled debut. This sent me on a bit of a manic tangent, fully believing anything might be possible. I swung wildly in the direction of Greg Sage from the Wipers and some other individuals to be mentioned later.

The first person I pestered, though, was Don Walker. Cold Chisel held a significant and at times ominous place in the living room of my mind, next to the fireplace, crouched like Bob from Twin Peaks. I remember camping trips to the south of Tasmania, where the late-night sessions of adults would erupt into campfire threats and a wellspring of profanity framed by half-sung Chisel choruses and lilo-mangling air guitar. Occasionally the rocks around the fire would explode and Darwinism would have its way with a mulleted fuckwit while the middle eight in ‘Flame Trees’ sat perfectly and untarnished above the deteriorating night. Walker’s spectre loomed over much of my childhood. There’s an image of Don clad in a balaclava looking like one of Nolan’s Ned Kellys, while the remainder of Cold Chisel attempt to muster enough sobriety to make eye contact with the camera. That steely reserve is a pretty tight metaphor for how I look at creation. The long and low road without deviation. The thousand-yard stare.

The romantic notion that there is some kind of long-term relationship between the famously talented and Lyngcoln of Tasmania is feverishly devoid of truth. I am just a pest with an internet connection. I have had a couple of opportunities to talk with Don since his contribution and he is an immensely generous and lovely bloke. And most of all, patient with the nervous ramblings of a halfwit who can’t hack that famous glare that breaches the fourth wall of any press photo the man has ever taken.

I wish I could relax, but considering even this verbose outburst, maybe it’s best I try to act normal and keen it formal. (copyright)

‘Water Runs Cold’

This song happened fast. Basically wedged around a trip to the supermarket. We punched out the guitar and drums and figured it was a bit too close to ‘Cacophonous Vibes’ … the second song we wrote. Alex [Lyngcoln] and I went to the market to do the shopping and it rattled around my head the whole time. Some scraps of lyrics I had that were way too literal clicked into place like a VHS tape and as soon as I got home I punched out the whole thing in 10 minutes. I tried to re-record the vocals but there was a brutal intensity to the first take that couldn’t be replicated or replaced. I can’t sing, so the noises emanating from my head have to have character ... and this take at least has that. This song has all the repetition and simplicity I love in other people’s songs, that I rarely achieve myself. In that manner it is probably one of the more effective things I have written.

‘On Your Summons’

This was an early success and another fast composition. One of those songs where you end up running to a guitar and recording the whole thing in one go on your phone. It has the most fucked chorus I have ever had to sing in any band. I play this song a lot and I yell so hard that sometimes everything goes black and then there’s rushes of colour, sulphur and then it’s like my brain is breathing. It happens every single time we play the song and is probably the singular reason why I had to take six months off from singing. An incredible strain on both air supply and waste retention.

‘Diminishing Returns’

‘Diminishing Returns’ is a total non-song that bloomed like a potato. It’s effectively three bits that hardly inspire circle pits, but the voices really provide a glue that makes this song one of my favourites. A great example of allowing something to remain nonlinear but really simple. The Cro-Magnon part at the end was recorded in a separate session and the guitar ramblings were intended for Neil Young … no shit. I had the audacity to try and get Shaky to play on this record. It was a legitimate attempt … Tim Brennan of Tym Guitars in Brisbane hosted Harmony at one of his excellent in-stores at his shop in the Fortitude Valley. I mentioned to him during a half-hour rant that I wanted to contact Neil Young. Instead of scoffing at my delusions of grandeur he accommodated me by offering to pass on my request to Neil’s guitar tech, whom he had helped out in typically spectacular fashion the previous time Neil was in Australia.

So I headed back to the hotel and crafted this email request on my phone for hours. I largely cut and pasted my Marc Ribot email, figuring that it had been an effective blindside in the past. I finally completed the thing and then sent it off to Tym and he forwarded it to his friend. I had one more look before putting the phone down and scrolled down to realise I had left the sentence “If Marc is interested in any way by the song attached please contact me at…” I called Tim in a cold sweat but because he is the hardest-working individual in Australia. He had already sent it. Oh how we laughed. Crushed by my own idiocy.


‘Pulse’ is the portal to the other side. It’s a song about death on an album about death and the first part of a trilogy about death. Just guitar and vocals. The song can’t sustain any more weight from additional participants.

‘Cold Storage’

Part of two of the trip, ‘Cold Storage’ is as close to a conceptual song as we are likely to produce. Beyond this, we are devoid of concept. My original mixes of this song were a little hot. I reckon I lost a couple of dB mixing this song initially until I decided to pull everything back a little so that it wouldn’t prompt a skip ahead. It’s still the most intense couple of minutes we’ve come up with in an overstated way. Erica Dunn, Quinn Veldhuis, Amanda Roff and myself spent a whole night recording endless monotone harmonies for this song. Building them one note at a time over the course of hours. Even Quinn’s husband Nik and I provided some warbling hypnotoad action down low to fill out the frequencies that started to make the girls dry retch. The Slayer moment is the halfway point in the record ... Carpetbombing’s Berlin Wall and a true moment of white light from the mouths of infinity.

‘Unknown Hunter’

The woefully named final part of the trilogy renders one of my favourite moments on the record. I was stuffing around writing the guitar intro and recording it as I went, when I played a chord that set loose a couple of frequencies that rattled a bunch of things in the room. The most audible of these was a set of hi-hats that you can hear at the 1:33 mark. The song is about spectres and that frequency anomaly seemed apt at the time. I have an active imagination and have weirded myself out to the point of leaving the house and sitting in the car on a couple of occasions.

Fucking David Lynch is somehow aware of this aberration in my mental stability and has programmed several visually fucked and crippling sequences that somehow creep into my quiet moments. From every single scene of Bob in Twin Peaks to whatever the fuck was behind the café in Mulholland Drive to even the bloke’s face describing whatever was behind the café in Mulholland Drive … it’s all imminent paralysis for me. I met Ray Wise (Laura Palmer’s dad) at LAX on holiday and somehow stopped pissing myself for long enough to get a photo with him. He didn’t smile at all right up until the moment the photo was taken and then a maniacal grin cut up his face for that split second before he resumed surly perfection. In the photo I am trying to smile but it looks like a proof-of-life photo.

So this song is about that, or the bits of that that I can address publicly I guess. My excellent wife and Harmony drummer Alex provides her first-ever recorded vocal part with the spoken-word outro. We always enjoy a collective chortle when stage guys try to stick a vocal mic back at the kit ... she’s not a singer, but this she did very well.


Without wanting to sound like imperialist aristocrats, we were in Paris on holidays … Anyway, we were riding on the underground trains there and they make a pretty radical sound when they hit a certain speed around slight corners. Once again it’s about vibration and frequency, which are recurring undertones on this record. It only happened a couple of times but I caught it on my phone once successfully and then had the girls sing the same note to heighten the irritation and clash. It doesn’t really qualify as a song but it still has a better chorus than most Whitlams songs.

‘Cut Myself Clean’

‘Cut Myself Clean’ is a song about blood dreams. Sometimes after a really sweet concussion or blow to the head, I attain access to a championship round of dreams that scream so vividly that it feels like all I am doing the next morning is taking dictation. Regardless of their illogical, subconsciously elastic trip, there’s always a point of mundane procedure that has to be adhered to in real time. I have had dreams where I have physically flown to buy tickets to a concert and the flight and how I achieve the flight is almost scientifically possible in every tangible way and the experience is detailed and as real as waking life … and then so, subsequently, is the lining up and waiting for tickets … the back of the dude in front of me’s head, the mind-numbing, innocuous conversations of the two people behind me, the unclaimed flatulence, the line anxiety, the sunburn, the financial stress … all crystallised and real. The problem is that the flying comprises five minutes of the dream and the lining up is a real time marathon until I wake.

Similarly, this particular dream involved bleeding for an hour until I flooded the neighbourhood. That part was fun. There were cars and people floating by and waves of blood, but that only lasted for an hour of sleep time. Everything got out of hand pretty rapidly. The next six hours were spent cleaning up the mess after the council cracked the shits. I woke up and felt like I had been at work for six hours ... without pay. This song has one heck of a killer bass part courtesy of Jon Chapple. He walks this thing all over Melbourne.

‘Big Ivan’

Big Ivan is a hydrogen bomb dropped by the former USSR in the 1960s during a ramp-up in Cold War hostility with the US. The 60-megaton bomb was the largest manmade explosion in history and had to be parachuted to detonation so that the release plane could fly 50 kilometres away from the detonation site in the Arctic Sea over an archipelago. Upon detonation the release plane plummeted a kilometre in the air due to the bomb’s shockwave. The bomb was dropped from a height of 10 kilometres and it created a mushroom cloud that was 64 kilometres high. It destroyed buildings several hundreds of kilometres away and shockwaves were felt in Norway and Finland. The seismic shock still registered on its third pass around the earth and despite being detonated 2km above the ground, the explosion registered 8.1 on the Richter Scale. By comparison the Hiroshima bomb delivered a 1- kiloton payload … Big Ivan was a pretty substantial not-so-veiled threat.

I reckon my generation were the first to live free of the nuclear spectre and Cold War. My childhood was spent largely living in fear of Death throwing bowling balls at me because of something that happened in bowling alleys called AIDS, instead of being bombed to smithereens. My early childhood was sheltered enough that by the time I started to glean any notion that some countries didn’t get along, Gorbachev’s reforms of the mid-to-late ’80s led to a stepping down of aggression and the eventual dissolution of an economically exhausted USSR. For those heads even five years older than me, The Cold War was a pretty tense deal and it must have been a harsh scene to live under the threat of mutually assured destruction. ‘Big Ivan’ features a bunch of skull-crushing vocal work from the girls. Sometimes on stage I forget where I am listening to them sing as one. It’s taken four solid years to get to this stage, but they have hit a whole other level that the fucks in the moat stand no chance of ripping off. There’s too much work involved and fucks, by nature, are lazy and have probably moved onto the next trend.

‘Do Me a Favour’

A first glimpse of light after pretty heavy proceedings, ‘Do Me a Favour’ is as uplifting as Harmony probably gets. It’s essentially a musical tribute to sheep. Well, one in particular. Shrek the sheep strayed from his flock, avoided capture and lived in a cave in New Zealand for a six years. By the time his farmer found him, his fleece almost outgrew his legs. For an animal widely panned for conformity, Shrek is about as radical as you can get. Even against every genetic urge, he had the presence of mind to decide to reject the status quo and build his own reality. That has to be admired and that is probably why the whole country fell in love with him. When he was finally shorn, it was televised nationally and his 30kg of fleece would have been enough to make 30 men’s suits. He even met with Prime Minister Helen Clark.

This was the first song written for Carpetbombing and we released the 7” of this song 12 months ago, which seems insane. My vocal take is first go and once again it’s shit but high on vibe and therefore irreplaceable … unless of course you boot me and get someone who can actually sing and isn’t a grumpy dickhead as a replacement. This song and ‘Cold Storage’ both had ridiculous and elaborate guitar intros that were eventually shelved to save Eddie Van Halen’s liver from toxic shock.

‘Prayer for War’

Hippity Hop. This song was just a drunken punt that worked well as backing to my urbane rapz. In preparation I cut up some drums and tried to find a method of delivery. On the road to mediocrity I passed through several embarrassing junctions trying to pin down a sound. In the end I abandoned affectation and went with plain old Lyngcoln communication style. When I rant at your head this is pretty much what you’ll hear. Unimpassioned, monotone and sleep-inducing. Flat Rap or Mope Hop. Patent pending. I can’t talk about cred or Dandenong and punching out some misogyny would lead to band castration ... So I reverted to bombs again. Trusty old tried-and-true bomb talk. Sits pretty over the voice/guitar sparring session. The flashpoint is a triangle rigged up to a delay pedal. I probably could have backed a little treble off it as it sounds like dental work going too deep.

‘Wailing Widow’

This song is a 1:25, like the one before it. It was meant to be a love song to my wife but she wholeheartedly rejected it because she thinks it sounds miserable. She’s right … a song about some dude stuck in traffic, crying at the lights, is not much of a tribute to anything other than civil engineering. It is by no means a measure of our relationship and I regret even bringing it up. Our neighbour almost burnt down her house to burn down ours after we recorded this. Alex got a rare opportunity to punish the drums and did so with utmost abandon. This song marks the end of our relationship with that neighbour.

‘Vapour Trails’

The last song written for Carpetbombing and the first nominated to be left off. We toyed with excluding this song for months and then upon deleting all of my superfluous guitar solos and intros we found a whole other five minutes of space for it. To celebrate I overdubbed a superfluous guitar solo on the outro of the song to overcompensate. As well as being the last song recorded for the record, it is also a departure from our standard operating procedure of writing and recording. On this song Alex and Jon (drums and bass) played together instead of Alex and myself. This effectively gave me a rhythm section to write my parts over the top of, which I never got around to and just ended up putting down what I would have played with Alex anyway. During the recording of the first take, Alex’s grandmother walks in the room and starts cheering not realising we were recording. You can hear that and that became how we decided to use this take.


This was the second song written for Carpetbombing, wedged between ‘Do Me a Favour’ and ‘On Your Summons’. It was the first time I employed this vocal sound, which became the template for the rest of the record. It’s essentially two mics, with one direct into the apparatus and the second one detouring through an echo pedal into an amp. Things are shitting themselves everywhere and it’s a fine line between hot and out of control. The sound is pretty harsh and messy, but we are hardly concerned about popularity as one of the most sceneless bands in Melbourne. In fact, one of the bands who would come closest to being compatriots on the fringes are Spinning Rooms and this vocal technique was concocted by singer Pete Dickinson.


‘Carpetbombing’ is out now on vinyl, CD and digital through Poison City. Launch tour dates below.

Thurs, April 3 – Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane, QLD [w/Gentle Ben + Per Purpose]
Fri, April 4 – GoodGod Small Club, Sydney, NSW [w/Day Ravies + Angie]
Sat, April 5 – The Phoenix, Canberra, ACT [w/Hoodlum Shouts + Sex Noises]
Sat, April 12 – The Brisbane Hotel, Hobart, TAS [w/The Native Cats + Naked]
Sat, April 26 – Howler, Melbourne, VIC [w/Deaf Wish, Tyrannamen, Laura Imbruglia, BJ Morriszonkle + very special secret guest]

31 Jan 19:00

Your Third Grade Chinese New Year

by Charlene Cheung

chinese new yearYou wake up a little later than normal. You’re not washing your hair today, after all. It’s one of the few days out of the year you don’t wash you hair. In fact, it’s the only day you’re actually not supposed to.

You don’t bother to make your bed, either — not that you make your bed on any other day because you’re pretty lazy. But, for the same reason you aren’t washing your hair, today is the one day you’re actually not supposed to clean. Just like your parents had explained to you long ago, you don’t want to wash or clean away all your good luck. You’re young. And, you don’t know it, yet, but you’re going to need all the luck you can get.

Despite your later start to the morning, or possibly because of it, you are primed for the day. It’s cold and gloomy outside on this late-January to early-February day, but here, inside the house, it’s warm, and the savory aromas from last night’s dinner still linger in the air.

Your feet want to make a run for the kitchen, but, like the good daughter they raised you to be, you go to your parents’ room instead.

Your sister joins you.

“Gung Hay Fat Choy!!”

You don’t know it, yet, but eventually, that will be one of the only phrases you remember how to say in Chinese. You will regret this. You will try to reteach yourself Cantonese in your twenties, but it will be harder the older and, inevitably, dumber you get.

“Gung Hay Fat Choy! LAI SEE DOU LOI!”

You’re both young, so it’s still cute. You’re both dorky, too, so it’s still funny. But, if you’re older than ten, you probably don’t want to rudely demand that red envelope.

Your parents greet you with big smiles. They wish you health, happiness, and prosperity. They tell you you’re their beautiful, smart, wonderful daughter. Your smile widens, your ears ring, your heart swells with the praise. You’re only going to hear more of that from their mouths today. You don’t know it, yet, but you’re only going to hear more of that from their mouths forever.

Still, specifically today, no negative words will be spoken. Today, you can do no wrong.

Together, you all race to the kitchen and pick out which sweet to eat first. Yes, you heard right. And yes, it’s still morning. You don’t know it, yet, but you do not eat candy for breakfast “when you grow up,” despite your childish proclamations. Today, however, you do. Because it’s important to start your day, your year with something sweet.

It’s too bad, then, that you still have school — because, like other non-Christian holidays, your school doesn’t observe Chinese New Year. No matter, you think. You are proud of your culture. You love showing off your traditions to your classmates, and you still have that belief that others are genuinely interested. You’ll naively hold onto that belief for too long. Hold onto it and believe it, though, for as long as possible. Because, you don’t know it, yet, but years from now, one of your classmates will call you a chink. You won’t know what it means. But, you will begin to realize that some people are not, in fact, interested in your culture at all.

You pack your schoolbag. Homework? Check. Lunch? Check. Traditional Chinese doll for show-and-tell? Check. Candies to hand out? Or at least the ones you haven’t eaten yet? Check. Wait, double check. Ok, check. You try to contain your excitement.

It’s like any other day at school, so your classmates would believe. But, you know better than that. Today is the start of the Lunar New Year. Today, you honor your ancestors. Today is a day for happiness, good fortune, longevity, and wealth.

But, today is also moving at a snail’s pace. You can’t even concentrate on your favorite subject, Math. You don’t know it, yet, but once you’re at college, despite excelling at it all throughout middle and high school, you will neglect to take any Math courses until your junior year. Unfortunately, by then, you will have forgotten almost everything, except for maybe the quadratic formula and Pythagorean’s Theorem. You will consequently be forced to drop out of the class, and you decide to take up writing instead.

And so, perhaps prophetically, you rejoice the end of Math, and it is finally time for show-and-tell. Your class gathers around in a circle, and you stand tall at the center. You take out your traditional Chinese doll. The doll is petite, swathed in a pink qipao, her hair pulled up in a bun, her lips a bright red pout. She’s beautiful. You don’t know it, yet, but that doll will be one of the only Asian role models/beauty standards you encounter as you grow up in America. Your own mother, Lucy Liu, Michelle Yeoh, and “that other Asian actress” will round out that list.

Once show-and-tell is over, your teacher places your doll on the shelf, out of the way, until it’s time to go home. You don’t know it, yet, but you will accidentally forget to take the doll home with you, and it will disappear from that shelf the very next day. You never find out what happened to it, and you never see it again. You will also never stop feeling guilty about losing that beloved doll.

But, those feelings of guilt won’t come to you until tomorrow. In the meantime, you are oblivious and happily ignorant. You hand out your lucky candy to your classmates. They immediately gobble up the sweet strawberry flavor, felicitously gobbling up the good luck that comes with it.

Finally, school is over. Your sister meets you on the bus, and the two of you quietly ride home. You didn’t know it then, but a couple of years back, your sister was bullied on the bus. Some older boys had made fun of her lunchbox and her slanted eyes. She now tries to protect you from being bullied yourself. Your family will never stop being there for you. You love them very much.

Your parents both work, so you and your sister have the house to yourselves after school. You do your homework while you watch cartoons on Nick Jr. (eventually, Nick Jr. will be replaced by the Disney afternoon cartoons). Your parents don’t allow TV until homework is finished, but you and your sister watch it anyway. You don’t know it, yet, but your dad will eventually catch on when he sees that the channel is always set to UPN. You will get in trouble, but don’t worry. Your sister and you will discover the “previous channel” button so that you can quickly re-set the TV to whatever network your parents were watching the night before. You will always be trying to outsmart your parents. You never will.

But, you don’t know that, yet, so you and your sister gleefully enjoy your afternoon shows. By the time your parents get home, you have both finished your homework because you are good girls. You don’t know it, yet, but you will be a good girl until college. That’s when your rebellious stage will kick in, and you will fight with your mother. A lot. Make sure you apologize to her later. Your mother just loves you, and you need to appreciate her more.

Like by helping her cook. Which, you do. Today, you prepare a simple meal, though, unlike the feast from last night. Traditionally, you enjoy your big meal on New Year’s Eve, which is kind of like a Chinese Thanksgiving. Instead of turkey, though, the star is good fortune.

Every year, your parents serve lucky foods — “lucky” because of how they sound and what they symbolize. Like, for example, a whole fish, which, in Chinese, is a homonym for plentiful. And chicken, because back in the day, chicken was not cheap — so, to celebrate the holiday, families wanted to serve something valuable to start off the year. Also, noodles, because long noodles represent long life and good health.

You ate all of that good fortune and more last night. In fact, you are still kind of full. But, of course, you think you always have room for dessert. You don’t know it, yet, but many years from now, you will learn you don’t always, nor should you always, have room for dessert. You will learn it the hard way after attending an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet and making the unfortunate decision of going out for ice cream afterwards.

But today, with your growing appetite and love for sweets, you still have room. Plus, it’s necessary to kick off the New Year with sweetness, after all.

At last, sleepily, you climb into bed. Chinese New Year has come to an end (day one, at least, out of the traditional fifteen-day celebration). As you lie there happy, healthy, loved, and full, you reflect on what wonders the future could possibly hold. Because, well, you don’t know it, yet.

Read more Your Third Grade Chinese New Year at The Toast.

27 Jan 14:30

Horrifying Business Cliches We’re All Tired and Terrified Of Hearing

by Mallory Ortberg

business“Let’s make sure that our bases will touch. I will touch your base to my base.”

“Together, we will all circle back. The circle will be mandatory, and it will never end.”

“At the end of the day, it is night, and we are alone in the dark.”

“We have no skin in this game. All of our skin is elsewhere. There can be no skin in the Skinless Games under penalty of flaying.”

“You are the Thought Leader; you must lead our thoughts.”

“I will reach out to you. Let me reach out to you. You cannot keep me from reaching you. We will all reach out to you, and we will touch your base.”

“It is what it is. All things are as they are; nothing can change now. All things same, no things new.”

“We must do that going forward. We cannot look back. We cannot go back. We must go forward, all together; looking back will destroy us. Do not look behind you.”

“You must never go where the rubber meets the road. Your death crouches for you there, whispering your name through its jaws.”

“Soon the COB will come. The Close of Business will be here. We must prepare; we must prepare. There will be no business after the Closing.”

Read more Horrifying Business Cliches We’re All Tired and Terrified Of Hearing at The Toast.

27 Jan 18:00

Statements That Can Be Easily Read As Compliments Without Being Lies

by Mallory Ortberg

smilingThere will be times in your young and supple lives when the rules of polite social interaction conflict directly with your sense of integrity. Be prepared to compromise; your sense of integrity is neither so consistent nor so worth defending as you think. The following are a series of statements you must memorize and repeat word for word when “I’m so happy for you” is an abominable untruth and “Congratulations; you deserve this” a lie you cannot choke over your own thick and bitter tongue. Deploy them carefully; your secret must never out, no matter how strong your moral objections to this person’s joy.

The key here is 1) not to say anything that you could not defend in a court of law were your conversation transcribed without body language (“Your honor, that day truly was the day X experienced [undeserved good fortune], I merely restated the fact”) or verbal codes and 2) avoid saying anything so vague that your erstwhile friend/coworker/former lover becomes suspicious of your true feelings. The key is to deliver a mere statement of fact with the appearance of a compliment. You have not lied; they have not been made wise. The perfect crime.

“[Repeat the news you have just been told, word for word.] You must be so excited!” A statement of fact, followed by an educated guess as to their current emotional state. Perfectly safe.

“Wow, today’s the day [the important thing happens.] You must be so excited!” The same.

“You must be so excited.” They likely are, the giddy and undeserving idiot.

“Tell me all about it!” A mere request for more information. Should they choose to interpret this as a form of approval, that is not your fault.

“You’re kidding me”/”No way”/any expression of disbelief delivered in a marginally cheerful tone. Malice cloaked in friendship; this is particularly beautiful. Your disbelief is sincere; it is only your tone that makes it sound feigned.

“What did [any mutual friend] say when they heard the news?” Classic misdirection. Let them prattle on about the meaningless praise from their fawners and hangers-on while you silently plan your conversational escape.

Smiling, hugging. Be careful not to let your smile grow so wide that the bile escapes your throat. Humans are docile and credulous fools; simply bare your teeth for a few seconds at one of them and they become convinced you wish them well.

“I can’t believe it!” You truly cannot. Were there any justice in the world, their lungs would be on fire this very second.

“That’s so much money!/That’s so soon/That’s such an honor!” They will mentally tack on “and you deserve it” without your doing any further work. Let them preen. You will wait, and you will be ready.  

Read more Statements That Can Be Easily Read As Compliments Without Being Lies at The Toast.

27 Jan 21:00

The Most Upsetting Questions In The World, In Order

by Mallory Ortberg

door“Do you have a minute?”

“Do you have a minute to talk?”

“Do you have a minute to talk later?”

“Hey, do you have a minute to talk later?”

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

“Hey, can I ask you a quick question?”

“Can I ask you your advice on something?”

“Can I ask you something?”

“Can I tell you something?”

“Why do you think that is?”

“Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?”

“I have to tell you something.” (Not technically a question.)

“Will you be around this afternoon?”

“Can you come into my office for a minute?”

“Can you come by my office for a few minutes?”

“Can you come by later?”

“can you come by later”

“How well would you say you know ____?”

“What makes you say that?”

“Oh, do you think so?”

“What do you think is the problem?”

“Do you notice anything wrong with this?”

“Can you explain what you were thinking when this happened?”

“Can we talk about this?”

“Can we talk?”

No, I don’t, I can’t, I would rather blow myself up with a hand grenade than come by your office later, I’ll come by but only if you can promise me I’m not in trouble, can you at least tell me what kind of trouble I’m in so I don’t have to guess, how many minutes is a few minutes, why wouldn’t you end this email with a smiley face to put me at ease so I don’t think I’m in trouble, am I in trouble, are you sure, I don’t know what I was thinking obviously I wasn’t thinking at all, I don’t see what’s wrong, I don’t know who that is I never heard of him, I thought it was fine but obviously I’m wrong, just tell me what it is now, tell me, tell me what I did wrong because I’ll never guess, not in a thousand years with a thousand guessing machines, never ask me anything, no we can’t, please just leave me alone to die.

Read more The Most Upsetting Questions In The World, In Order at The Toast.

27 Jan 20:20

Chvrches, "Bela Lugosi's Dead"

by Alex Balk
by Alex Balk

I was just listening to Bauhaus' original of this song last night (it is a long story, but I promise you I am not some kind of vampire who spends his evenings listening to the music of his youth and lamenting all the things he has lost as the years have passed by; vampires aren't real!) and thinking about how as much as Peter Murphy's vocals are integral to its mood one of the most amazing things is how the assemblage of the guitar scratches and pops and screechy bits that would come to be instantly recognizable as the Bauhaus sound was there right at the beginning, which leads me to believe that if you are going to cover this song—and it seems like a no-win proposition, because the old folks will never accept it while the kids will be all, "Needs more bloop-bleep-drop" etc.—it is probably best to take it on in your own style, if you have one, so I am happy to hear that that is what Chrvches did here. I don't know that I'd play this over and over, but I also don't think it's the disaster that it might have been, and most days "not the disaster that it might have been" is better than I expect out of things, so let's all give it a listen.


The post Chvrches, "Bela Lugosi's Dead" appeared first on The Awl.

20 Jan 17:15

14,000 Latvians brave the cold to transport books via human chain

by Maggie Serota
14,000 Latvians brave the cold to transport books via human chain

In celebration of Riga’s tenure as Europe’s cultural capital, Latvians braved below freezing temperatures in order to transport books from an old national library to a new one located a little over a mile away.

On Saturday, over 14,000 Latvians formed a human chain in order to transport 2,000 books from the old library to the new one designed by Latvian-born U.S. architect Gunnar Bikerts.

According to AFP:

Organiser Aiva Rozenberga said the event had deep symbolic significance for Latvians.

“The people who stood in the Baltic Way remember that feeling of being shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers,” she told AFP. “The people taking part in the book chain who are prepared to stand here on a cold winter day are taking this seriously too — we are literally standing up for culture.”

“We are a nation of readers,”said a 61-year-old Riga resident who gave her name only as Elga, standing in the shadow of the vast new library.

Over 4 million books remain and they will be transported by far more practical means.


17 Jan 18:00

What If These TED Talks Were Horribly, Unspeakably Wrong?

by Llewellyn Hinkes-Jones
by Llewellyn Hinkes-Jones

TED DOLLARSThe long knives have been out for TED Talks for some time. Benjamin Bratton called them "middlebrow megachurch infotainment." Evegny Morozov called the TED publishing arm the "insatiable kingpin of international meme laundering." The gist of these arguments is that TED Talks are vapid, culty mass-selfies that fetishize technology for every solution. It is "placebo science" meant to make its audience feel good about learning and themselves, where ideas can hang out and do whatever, man—just turn the safety off on your brain-gun.

If not read in the voice of a perpetual techno-cynic, these might not be such terrible things. Is middlebrow entertainment bad? If cynics want to complain about shallow, self-indulgent infotainment there's a whole world of sitcoms, reality television, and History channel documentaries on alien-Nazi collaborations for their critical ire. If touchy-feely talks about cultural norms and where ideas come from are so bad, then wait until they get a load of the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list for the past twenty years.

There have certainly been great TED Talks—I highly recommend Ben Goldacre's talk on shoddy science and clinical trials for pharmaceuticals or Molly Crockett's monologue on the bollocks of current neuroscience research. These have helped give a voice to the underserved while highlighting potential innovations that truly could improve the world. Fantastic and informative talks by very respected scientists, bringing attention to projects that would otherwise be destined for the back pages of Scientific American.

But then there are also TED Talks that are blatant pseudoscientific garbage. These aren't nebulous meanderings on where ideas come from or the contentious talks on new age and quantum energy seen at the smaller TEDx events (kookiness that the organizers have already tried to clamp down on). These are the main stage talks on subjects with wide social implications. These are the TED Talks that simply repackage right-wing talking points for the stoned California tech elite with a gloss of technological innovation and a contrarian interpretation of how the world actually works. In Bratton’s words, there’s a reason many of them have not come to fruition.

TED's lack of substantial peer review and its emphasis on what is new, what isn't divisive, and what is entertaining rather than accurate or well-researched means that horrendous nonsense can get a wide audience of the rich and powerful. TED's lack of rigor in filtering out candidates and its emphasis on performance and inspiration has allowed the scientific equivalent of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth to give speeches at Woodstock. The problem is not that technology is evil or that nothing should be touchy-feely. It's that TED—which operates under the Sapling Foundation, a nonprofit founded by Chris Anderson—let down its guard and the inmates took over the asylum. These are ideas that are not worth spreading. They are, in fact, bad ideas and TED should feel bad for having spread them.

Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame seems to think that child car seats are just a placebo. People just like to think that something bigger equates to safer. Lap belts do almost as well. To back up his argument, he has a handful of tests, statistics, and quizzical anecdotes about when his father, a doctor, used to give out larger pills to make people feel better.

Levitt seems to imply that there is a giant conspiracy of car seat manufacturers that are ostensibly testing and improving their devices to be as safe as possible, but in reality they are just there to bilk us all of our hard-earned money with unnecessary, bulky automotive gadgets we don’t need.

He tried to get his results published in numerous medical journals but they were all rejected. He dismissed that result as part of how “academics work behind the scenes constantly trying to undermine each other” and that “they would never publish it because of the result, no matter how well done the analysis was.” (It was later published in an economics journal; he and his co-author also took it to the Times.)

Levitt’s initial analysis was done on a single set of data from a testing facility that remained anonymous, and it completely ignored injuries in car accidents, focusing solely on deaths. Other studies have come to different conclusions when analyzing data from crashes, revealing that car seats led to a “28% reduction in risk for death” in accidents and that child seats have and continue to be necessary for child safety. People still seem to be using child seats, and his vision of an integrated lap belt for children seems to have not gotten very far.

Holistic grazing sounds like what happens at the midpoint in a spirit quest, but it could also be a reimagining of how we can actually solve the problems of desertification. Environmentalists have constantly pointed to cattle overgrazing as a significantly destructive force against grasslands. Cattle eat up all of the vegetation and leave nothing behind. The landscape dies and nothing is left to grow, which also exacerbates climate change.

But maybe the problem isn’t that cattle are grazing too much, but that they’re not grazing enough? Allan Savory has a TED Talk that posits just that, and he has some interesting results to prove it. We could be allowing cattle to graze without limit, and it might even prevent climate change and save our planet! But Savory's numbers are misleading and inconsistent. His research has never been repeated. A Slate story by James McWilliams ran through all of the flaws and inconsistencies in Savory's work, noting that:

In 1990, Savory admitted that attempts to reproduce his methods had led to “15 years of frustrating and eratic [sic] results.” But he refused to accept the possibility that his hypothesis was flawed. Instead, Savory said those erratic results “were not attributable to the basic concept being wrong but were always due to management.” In a favorable interview with Range magazine in 2000, Savory seemed unconcerned with the failure of his method in scientific trials: “You’ll find the scientific method never discovers anything. Observant, creative people make discoveries.”

Climate change is a reality and if we don't do something quick, our planet may be doomed. So why not inject our atmosphere with clouds of sulfuric gas? Why, it's just crazy enough to work.

In fact, David Keith's idea of injecting sulfuric aerosols into the upper atmosphere to create a gaseous shield has been properly modeled and is based in some sound science. But whether it prevents global warming almost comes secondary as to whether it turns the planet into a toxic gas bubble of death in the process.

It's hard to imagine that something an archvillain would threaten the U.N. with would actually save the planet. But who knows! People are lazy, and nobody seems to care if the planet dies a crippling, toxic death, so we may be hearing about this idea in the future when David Keith takes over the world using his Doomsday Device.

Ever wanted to push an old lady into the street but decided against it? What made you hold back?

Paul Zak has a theory that the chemical oxytocin that lives in our brain controls those decisions. It is our moral and trust center. In this telling, oxytocin is also the love drug that makes us realize our worth and could also cure autism.

Besides the wealth of contradictory science about what oxytocin does, there's no evidence that it cures autism or has any connection to morality. From Ed Yong:

Because the hype around oxytocin hurts and exploits vulnerable people. The hormone’s reputed ability to fix social ills has drawn the attention of parents whose children have autism, depression, or other conditions characterised by social problems. Many groups are looking to use oxytocin to ease those conditions, but always with great caution. Heinrichs, for example, is running a trial to see if oxytocin can help people with borderline personality disorder, when used alongside normal therapy. “If you sit at home with a social phobia and a prescribed nasal spray, the only effect you’d get would be a dripping nose,” he told me last year when I spoke to him for a New Scientist story.

Assuming a connection between brain chemicals and moral understanding, rather than education or personal experience controlling morality, is just about half a step away from being a modern version of eugenics, with low oxytocin levels being the current equivalent to a low-browed troglodytic thug from a hundred years ago.

Activist and fundraiser Dan Palotta thinks our approach to charity is wrong. It's a puritanical mindset, he believes, to think that philanthropical nonprofits should scrimp and save on things like advertising, fundraising, and CEO pay if they want to accomplish anything. You gotta spend money to make money, baby.

Nonprofit workers should be rewarded for their merit in solving problems like hunger and homelessness. Otherwise, the best minds of our generation will go into more financially rewarding fields, like banking. The nonprofit world just gets left with the second-rate, willing to work for substandard wages. The organizations that employ them won't be able to raise money and innovate.

Because that's the problem with the nonprofit world: not enough innovation.

Nonprofits can easily just pay themselves and get nothing done; that happens. In the process, whatever problem they were trying to solve barely gets addressed because the nonprofit is spending so much money on administration. This is why nonprofits are almost always measured by their funding percentages, based on their annual reports and tax filings. If advertising and fundraising did lead to more money for cancer research by scale, it would be readily evident in the yearly numbers.

Palotta's solution is that nonprofit fundraising should be a for-profit enterprise. This idea of keeping nonprofits lean stems from Puritanism, he's written.

Palotta’s consultant work, running events as for-profit fundraising campaigns for causes like AIDS research and cancer awareness, had problems when only a small percentage of the proceeds being raised were actually going to direct services. In one incidence, rather than a promised 60% of proceeds going to charity, the fundraising, advertising, and event costs cut into expectations so far that only 19% made it in the end. When too much money was being spent on marketing materials and large salaries for employees like Palotta, many of the larger fundraisers took offense and left to form a more formal tax exempt non-profit that ran similar events and paid their staff less overall.

Sugata Mitra is obsessed with the concept that children can teach themselves. He discovered that, when left alone with a computer, children in New Delhi could figure out how to browse the internet without being able to read the language that was written on the screen. For him this was a realization that computers could revolutionize education. In places of extreme poverty where good teachers won't go, computers could serve as improvised learning centers. They provide something called "outdoctrination," rather than indoctrination, where students can find information as they want it.

His vision eventually begins to sound a lot like just letting kids browse the internet. Yes, children can teach themselves how to use appliances, but his vision of a teacherless education system is a drastic oversimplification of what is involved in education. His vision of a technology-based education system sounds eerily like strapping kids to an Ipad potty training seat and calling it a day.

Computers definitely have an important role to play in education, but his ideas become contentious once you realize the current battle that is taking place in the U.S. over public education. Public, charter, and private school systems are entering into million dollar contracts with technology firms while laying off teachers by the thousands. MOOCs are being heralded as the future of learning, but the percentages of students who complete coursework through online classes is staggeringly low. And really, if kids could teach themselves coursework, then it would only be matter of sending cheap textbooks in lieu of computers to third world countries.

"Mustard does not exist on a hierarchy. Mustard exists, just like tomato sauce, on a horizontal plane. There is no good mustard or bad mustard. There is no perfect mustard or imperfect mustard. There are only different kinds of mustards that suit different kinds of people."

Malcolm Gladwell's TED Talk on Ragu's pursuit of the perfect spaghetti sauce is the ultimate in TED's inspirational contrarianism. There isn't just one type of spaghetti sauce; there are hundreds. What you think you know about the most mundane thing isn't really true; it's the complete opposite. And the reality will amaze you.

His ability to spin that yarn is quite fascinating once you realize that this talk is really just about how there are different types of spaghetti sauce, something anybody with the most basic familiarity with Italian cooking might comprehend. It's not about how marketing companies desperately try to pander to consumers in any way they can because they have no understanding of what connotes a good product. It’s about how Ragu uses horizontal segmentation to underscore how adept the marketing world is at grasping these concepts and then turning them into products like Ragu Zesty. Pure genius.

Gladwell’s marketing mysticism may not be on the same diabolical level as injecting massive amounts of sulfuric gas into the sky, but his prophetic insight into the nature of condiments particularly irks me because I vividly remember reading his New Yorker story on mustard, spaghetti sauce and ketchup that this talk was based on. In it, he details how Heinz perfected their recipe to the point that no other brand can compete. Their recipe of high fructose corn syrup and tomato paste is the best possible ketchup. Somehow tomato sauce can have an infinite spectrum of flavor but ketchup, which is pretty much just tomato sauce, has a platonic ideal. How can this be?

There's many more. If you're not an Appalachian dirt farmer or living in sub-poverty conditions in the inner city, you might be interested to hear Niall Ferguson talk about the 6 Killer Apps of Prosperity like consumerism and a positive work ethic that have led to America's demonstrable wealth. Barbara Fredrickson's theory of a positivity tipping point might help those struggling with depression by encouraging them to just be happy enough that they achieve wealth and fame. Roger Stein thinks we should create investment markets for experimental drugs because the unregulated market of the pharmaceutical industry really needs less regulation and a market system that is dependent on profitability to make life-saving drugs.

TED is not completely to blame for the proliferation of these ideas. The books, projects, and visions were popular beforehand. Allowing these speakers the chance at a TED Talk just gave their malformed ideas even more publicity.

These contrarian insights wouldn’t make it very far if the whole concept of public intellectualism hadn’t already been corrupted. Whether or not somebody has an Earth-shattering idea with a flimsy study that goes against decades of scientific research and common sense has little to do with that idea's potential for success. It's a ripe atmosphere for anybody with a good stage performance and a quirky idea to sell whatever it is they are thinking about.

Awkward intellectuals with a critical opinion and without something to sell don’t make it very far. Insecure, unkempt, stammering scientists who obsess over details and believe in staid-sounding ideas can't really cut the morning talk show circuit either. It's unlikely that many of them will take to the stage to inspire thousands with grandiose visions about how everything was already working relatively well and also let's not try to disrupt the construction industry or reinvent how we approach heart surgery.

Llewellyn Hinkes-Jones is a Washington, D.C.-based writer and programmer whose work appears in The Atlantic Cities, The LA Review of Books and The Morning News.


The post What If These TED Talks Were Horribly, Unspeakably Wrong? appeared first on The Awl.

20 Jan 05:50

Cool Prisons, Women’s Rights, And Other Heaps Fun Stories From Australian History

by Alex McKinnon

Australian history and how it’s taught in schools is back in the public eye after Christopher Pyne heroically announced plans to save the minds of the nation’s youth from the lurking threat of Communism by revising the national curriculum to remove “partisan bias” and refocus it on “important events in Australia’s history” like Anzac Day, Federation and presumably Bob Menzies’ birthday. While listening to Pyne go on about ‘Straya (or anything) is about as aesthetically pleasing as a night of Jim Beam and Indian food, renewing the conversation around what we teach kids about our country could be something of an opportunity, because there’s a far bigger problem with the current Australian history curriculum than its chronic Freedom deficiency.

As any high-school student will tell you (using words like “totes” and other terms you don’t understand), it’s really, really boring — so boring that it turns most people off Australian history for life. This is the worst, because Australian history — not the Phar Lap-Don Bradman bowl of porridge they forced on you at school, but the actual things that happened – is friggin’ amazing. If we’re going to rejig the curriculum, we could do a lot worse than squeezing these awesome bits of our history in before that last week of the semester where the teacher just chucks on School Of Rock.


We Basically Invented Modern Democracy

In the mid-1800s, the ‘democracy’ most people got was kind of like skim milk: it looked like the real thing, but was just objectively not as good. In England, for example, you couldn’t vote in secret — your vote was recorded next to your name, which meant that if Lord Alan Jones’ grandfather was running for Parliament, he’d know if you didn’t vote for him and probably kick you off the dirt farm you worked on his land. More recently, dictatorships that hold sham ‘elections’ get the result they want by recording who votes for them and beating up or imprisoning whoever doesn’t.

In 1838, a bunch of righteous dudes called the Chartists decided the situation was, to use the parlance of the time, straight whack. They got together and published the ‘People’s Charter’, calling for the right to cast our votes in secret and other dangerous poor-people ideas like letting all adult men vote and paying Members of Parliament so regular people could afford to run. England’s rulers responded to the Chartist’s demands by sending cops to smack them around and then packing them off to Australia, the Empire’s all-purpose human wastebasket. Australian colonial elections were just as corrupt and unrepresentative as British ones, but England’s super-strict class hierarchy was pretty hard to enforce in a place where you needed ex-cons to grow your food, giving the Chartist leaders the wiggle-room they needed to gather support and pressure colonial governments into not acting like the Plastics in Mean Girls.


In this analogy, the Plastics are colonial governments, fat Regina George is the Chartists, and “sit with us” is participating in democracy. It is a flawless analogy.

Cut to 1854 when a couple of grubby miners in Victoria formed the Ballarat Reform League, which issued Chartist-inspired demands for fair representation and to not be ripped off all the time, please and thank you. The Victorian government responded exactly how the English one had in 1838, but the miners flipped them the bird, got someone’s mum to stitch a flag together, and the Eureka Rebellion happened. While the Rebellion didn’t pan out because soldiers have lots of guns and miners don’t, the Eureka miners became heroes overnight, the leaders of the revolt were acquitted of treason, and colonial parliaments started passing laws basically gifting the Chartists everything they couldn’t get in England, including the secret ballot — the first laws to do so anywhere. The secret ballot took off all over the world like parachute pants in the ’90s, and to this day is the gold standard for countries adopting democratic reforms. It’s other, widely-used name? The ‘Australian ballot‘. You’re welcome, everyone else.


We Were Into Women’s Rights Before It Was Cool

Most people know in a vague way that Australia was the second country to grant all women (except Aboriginal women, in some states) the right to vote after New Zealand, and if you didn’t know that, we super did and go us. That’s pretty much everything you learn about Australian women’s suffrage at school, which makes it seem like women were just gifted the vote without having to do anything. That’s wrong, sister — the suffragettes worked their petticoated butts off, touring the country and collecting thousands of signatures on petitions in the days when signing a petition meant, like, picking up a pen and writing your name, which just seems like SO MUCH WORK now. They didn’t even get to tweet about it after.


“Guys, this rally is blowing UP on Instagram. Mission accomplished.”

It is true, though, that the old white moustaches who ran the show back then were much less douchey on the women’s suffrage issue than the old white moustaches elsewhere. In the late nineteenth century, Australia was pretty much a giant experimental greenhouse for new ideas that couldn’t get a run in older democracies like America and Europe. Women’s suffrage in Australia was already a done deal when governments in England and the United States were fighting tooth-and-nail to keep women out of the voting booth, let alone political office. When Australian women scored voting rights federally in 1902, they also became the first women to win the right to run for office, dooming us to the eventual man-hating Juliartatorship we somehow survived together. Even so, the fact that the suffragettes didn’t have to resort to throwing themselves under freaking horses to get their natural rights like they did in England is pretty great.

Also, those people you’ve never heard of on our money with the illegible signatures? About half of them were awesome trailblazing ladies. Australia’s first female politician, Edith Cowan, ran against the Attorney-General who introduced the law giving her the right to run into Parliament, beat him, and used her new platform to promote sex education in schools. Baller move, Edith. Catherine Helen Spence was the first Australian woman to stand for office — in 1897 guys, come on, give it up — and campaigned her whole life for proportional voting to make elections fairer. After Spence died, she was given the title ‘Grand Old Woman of Australia‘, which is officially the most swag title to ever swag. They’re on the five and fifty-dollar notes respectively (not the five-dollar note with the Queen on it, the other one), so while you’re mainlining House Of Cards on the couch, they’re up in Cool Old-Lady Heaven making it rain forever using cash money with their own faces on it.




We Cured Prison Forever, But Then We Forgot

You know the third season of The Wire, where Major Bunny Colvin makes a last-ditch effort to keep The Game out of honest neighbourhoods by setting up zones where dealers and addicts can do whatever they want? And it works super well, with crime plummeting and whole city blocks coming back to life? And when his gambit gets found out, the whole grand scheme gets shut down and Bunny is forced to resign in disgrace? It’s an incredible story, but no one would have the guts to pull a stunt like that for real, right?

Wrong, sunshine. Scottish-born prison commandant Alexander Maconochie – aka the most amazing guy you’ve never heard of — did that exact thing, only on an island fortress prison in the middle of the Pacific around the same time the postage stamp was invented. In 1840, Maconochie was appointed superintendent of the Norfolk Island penal settlement, a place reserved entirely for the worst of the worst: murderers, rapists, and serial offenders deemed beyond any hope of living in decent society. Norfolk Island was basically Super Alcatraz — a hell on earth in the middle of nowhere, where convicts were treated so appallingly that they would draw straws to be stabbed to death by their cellmates as a form of assisted suicide.


Basically this, only with, like, five Nicolas Cages. That intense.

Once in charge of this island hellhole, Maconochie made the classic first-day prison move of finding the biggest, baddest mother in the yard and knocking his ass out to establish dominance. Oh wait, no he didn’t — he called 1,200 prisoners together and told them that the old system of floggings, confinement and general hideousness that had gone on for years was over. Maconochie’s assumption, beyond radical for its time, was that even the worst offenders could be rehabilitated if they were treated with respect and given the opportunity to better themselves. In his four years running Norfolk Island, Maconochie ordered books and magazines for a library, started classes to teach convicts skills like carpentry and gardening, gave every prisoner a plot of soil to grow their own food, built churches and set up a synagogue, dismantled the island’s gallows, and set up gravestones for convicts who died.

As word of the new system got out, colonial Australia went berserk. Newspapers and politicians called Maconochie a madman and predicted that the bloodthirsty criminals he was treating so liberally would soon kill everyone in authority, escape to the mainland, and start a convict rebellion, Con Air-style. What actually happened went like this: to celebrate the Queen’s birthday one year, Maconochie let the convicts out of their cells and treated them to a day of food, rum, entertainment and fireworks, paid for with his own money. Obviously, as soon as they got outside the prison walls, these hundreds of newly-unleashed criminal maniacs took advantage of Maconochie’s naivety, banded together and — oh, they put on a musical. And some poetry readings.


And tossed back their glorious, flowing hair.

It couldn’t last — Maconochie was sacked by a government convinced he was a lunatic, and his replacement turned Norfolk Island back into a hell on earth. Maconochie died in England years later completely forgotten, his ideas regarded as a bad joke. The only upside to the whole experiment was that it totally worked – of the 920 prisoners Maconochie released to the mainland during his tenure, twenty re-offended. That’s a two per cent re-offender rate. The current re-offender rate in Australia? 60 per cent. The guy basically cured jail at a time when the default way of dealing with criminals was “send them around the world where we don’t have to look at them”. He deserves his own national holiday or, at the very least, a ten-part HBO mini-series starring Guy Pearce.


Alex McKinnon is a Sydney-based writer and journalist who will finish his Arts degree one day, swear to God. He is the former editor of the Star Observer, Australia’s longest-running LGBTI weekly newspaper.

15 Jan 16:00

The Names They Gave Me

by Tasbeeh Herwees


“Your name is Tasbeeh. Don’t let them call you by anything else.”

My mother speaks to me in Arabic; the command sounds more forceful in her mother tongue, a Libyan dialect that is all sharp edges and hard, guttural sounds. I am seven years old and it has never occurred to me to disobey my mother. Until twelve years old, I would believe God gave her the supernatural ability to tell when I’m lying.

“Don’t let them give you an English nickname,” my mother insists once again, “I didn’t raise amreekan.”

My mother spits out this last word with venom. Amreekan. Americans. It sounds like a curse coming out of her mouth. Eight years in this country and she’s still not convinced she lives here. She wears her headscarf tightly around her neck, wades across the school lawn in long, floor-skimming skirts. Eight years in this country and her tongue refuses to bend and soften for the English language. It embarrasses me, her heavy Arab tongue, wrapping itself so forcefully around the clumsy syllables of English, strangling them out of their meaning.

But she is fierce and fearless. I have never heard her apologize to anyone. She will hold up long grocery lines checking and double-checking the receipt in case they’re trying to cheat us. My humiliation is heavy enough for the both of us. My English is not. Sometimes I step away, so people don’t know we’re together but my dark hair and skin betray me as a member of her tribe.

On my first day of school, my mother presses a kiss to my cheek.

“Your name is Tasbeeh,” she says again, like I’ve forgotten. “Tasbeeh.”


Roll call is the worst part of my day. After a long list of Brittanys, Jonathans, Ashleys, and Yen-but-call-me-Jens, the teacher rests on my name in silence. She squints. She has never seen this combination of letters strung together in this order before. They are incomprehensible. What is this h doing at the end? Maybe it is a typo.


“Tasbeeh,” I mutter, with my hand half up in the air. “Tasbeeh.”

A pause.

“Do you go by anything else?”

“No,” I say. “Just Tasbeeh. Tas-beeh.”

“Tazbee. All right. Alex?”

She moves on before I can correct her. She said it wrong. She said it so wrong. I have never heard my name said so ugly before, like it’s a burden. Her entire face contorts as she says it, like she is expelling a distasteful thing from her mouth. She avoids saying it for the rest of the day, but she has already baptized me with this new name. It is the name everyone knows me by, now, for the next six years I am in elementary school. “Tazbee,” a name with no grace, no meaning, no history; it belongs in no language.

“Tazbee,” says one of the students on the playground, later. “Like Tazmanian Devil?” Everyone laughs. I laugh too. It is funny, if you think about it.


I do not correct anyone for years. One day, in third grade, a plane flies above our school.

“Your dad up there, Bin Laden?” The voice comes from behind. It is dripping in derision.

“My name is Tazbee,” I say. I said it in this heavy English accent, so he may know who I am. I am American. But when I turn around they are gone.


I go to middle school far, far away. It is a 30-minute drive from our house. It’s a beautiful set of buildings located a few blocks off the beach. I have never in my life seen so many blond people, so many colored irises. This is a school full of Ashtons and Penelopes, Patricks and Sophias. Beautiful names that belong to beautiful faces. The kind of names that promise a lifetime of social triumph.

I am one of two headscarved girls at this new school. We are assigned the same gym class. We are the only ones in sweatpants and long-sleeved undershirts. We are both dreading roll call. When the gym teacher pauses at my name, I am already red with humiliation.

“How do I say your name?” she asks.

“Tazbee,” I say.

“Can I just call you Tess?”

I want to say yes. Call me Tess. But my mother will know, somehow. She will see it written in my eyes. God will whisper it in her ear. Her disappointment will overwhelm me.

“No,” I say, “Please call me Tazbee.”

I don’t hear her say it for the rest of the year.


My history teacher calls me Tashbah for the entire year. It does not matter how often I correct her, she reverts to that misshapen sneeze of a word. It is the ugliest conglomeration of sounds I have ever heard.

When my mother comes to parents’ night, she corrects her angrily, “Tasbeeh. Her name is Tasbeeh.” My history teacher grimaces. I want the world to swallow me up.


My college professors don’t even bother. I will only know them for a few months of the year. They smother my name in their mouths. It is a hindrance for their tongues. They hand me papers silently. One of them mumbles it unintelligibly whenever he calls on my hand. Another just calls me “T.”

My name is a burden. My name is a burden. My name is a burden. I am a burden.


On the radio I hear a story about a tribe in some remote, rural place that has no name for the color blue. They do not know what the color blue is. It has no name so it does not exist. It does not exist because it has no name.


At the start of a new semester, I walk into a math class. My teacher is blond and blue-eyed. I don’t remember his name. When he comes to mine on the roll call, he takes the requisite pause. I hold my breath.

“How do I pronounce your name?” he asks.

I say, “Just call me Tess.”

“Is that how it’s pronounced?”

I say, “No one’s ever been able to pronounce it.”

“That’s probably because they didn’t want to try,” he said. “What is your name?”

When I say my name, it feels like redemption. I have never said it this way before. Tasbeeh. He repeats it back to me several times until he’s got it. It is difficult for his American tongue. His has none of the strength, none of the force of my mother’s. But he gets it, eventually, and it sounds beautiful. I have never heard it sound so beautiful. I have never felt so deserving of a name. My name feels like a crown.


“Thank you for my name, mama.”


When the barista asks me my name, sharpie poised above the coffee cup, I tell him: “My name is Tasbeeh. It’s a tough t clinging to a soft a, which melts into a silky ssss, which loosely hugs the b, and the rest of my name is a hard whisper — eeh. Tasbeeh. My name is Tasbeeh. Hold it in your mouth until it becomes a prayer. My name is a valuable undertaking. My name requires your rapt attention. Say my name in one swift note – Tasbeeeeeeeh – sand let the h heat your throat like cinnamon. Tasbeeh. My name is an endeavor. My name is a song. Tasbeeh. It means giving glory to God. Tasbeeh. Wrap your tongue around my name, unravel it with the music of your voice, and give God what he is due.”

Read more The Names They Gave Me at The Toast.

14 Jan 21:20

Love Letter to Concrete

by Jeva Lange
by Jeva Lange

"Those staircases like fists, those abstract angles so bloody sure of themselves – that bravado rubbed people up the wrong way. For 30 years, these civic megaliths were the most hated buildings in history. But today, the ones that remain are making our hearts skip a beat. Brutalist buildings inhabit a polarised world of love and hate, life and death." [Related]

Concrete by Rick.


The post Love Letter to Concrete appeared first on The Awl.

10 Jan 15:00

What Would Yellow Ranger Do?: A Cartoonish Tale

by Shing Yin Khor
08 Jan 18:00

Open Offices: Pros and Cons (Mostly Cons)

by Meaghan O'Connell
by Meaghan O'Connell

Open offices may seem better suited to younger workers, many of whom have been multitasking for the majority of their short careers. When, in 2012, Heidi Rasila and Peggie Rothe looked at how employees of a Finnish telecommunications company born after 1982 reacted to the negative effects of open-office plans, they noted that young employees found certain types of noises, such as conversations and laughter, just as distracting as their older counterparts did. The younger workers also disparaged their lack of privacy and an inability to control their environment. But they believed that the trade-offs were ultimately worth it, because the open space resulted in a sense of camaraderie; they valued the time spent socializing with coworkers, whom they often saw as friends.

All these studies cited on the New Yorker’s Currency blog yesterday that suggest we’d all work better behind closed doors definitely resonate. But practically (architecturally?) speaking, how would that even work? Don’t all roads lead to cubicle?

I did love the camaraderie of an open office plan, mostly the amount of time I could spend bugging my coworkers on my way back from something as simple as a trip to the bathroom, but whenever I needed to get something big done I usually had to work from home or hide out in a conference room. Having your own office, though? That seems far-off and magical to me, something from a bygone era I may have missed out on.

Photo: Richard Bowen

08 Jan 19:30

Lucy's Conquests

by Michele Travis

My dog is a Gabor sister, trapped in the body of a pit bull terrier blend. She has never seen a man she did not want to meet, or met a man she could not charm. The heart of a charming courtesan beats within her broad black and white chest. She has the tennis and racket ball collection to prove it.

During walks near the public courts, Lucy is not above grinning and wiggling for “an old ball I was going to throw away, really. She can have it. Who’s a pretty girl? Does this pretty girl want a tennis ball? Oooo, she does!” I stand around smiling, feeling de trop during these encounters. It has been pointed out that maybe if I did not usually dress like a teenage lesbian circa 1998 when I walk the dog, her wingwoman potential could be more effectively exploited. But I doubt it. These guys are dazzled by Lucy’s adorably large ears and freckled belly. And she lacks the ability to distinguish between married, single, gay, straight.

In a display of both spectacular taste and questionable judgment, Lucy boldly attempted to snare Jon Hamm a couple years ago, while his partner Jennifer Westfeldt was probably less than 20 feet away, filming in one of our neighborhood parks. Though her Jolene efforts were unsuccessful on my behalf, Lucy got Don Draper’s hands under her sweatshirt while he whispered praise for the adorable pink tint of her muzzle, while we all huddled together under a shrub at the edge of the Heather Garden. It is unlikely she will ever make a more impressive conquest, but I allow her to pull me into conversations with joggers, tourists, teenagers on field trips, museum staff walking to their jobs at The Cloisters, and parks department employees—a range of men whose common bonds are their inability to resist a friendly furry face and a lack of interest in the woman at the other end of the leash, which is usually mutual.
Read the rest at The Hairpin.

The post Lucy's Conquests appeared first on The Awl.

06 Jan 17:00

St. Vincent, "Digital Witness"

by Alex Balk
by Alex Balk

I can't remember who said of Annie Clark's voice that there was something so comforting about it that you accepted even the weirdest surrounding sounds, but boy was he or she ever correct. I am very excited for the new album.


The post St. Vincent, "Digital Witness" appeared first on The Awl.

31 Dec 19:30

These GIFs of dogs playing in the snow will make you like snow again

by Megan McCormick
These GIFs of dogs playing in the snow will make you like snow again

More snow is headed to the Northeast this week, and that can only mean one thing (besides traffic delays and endless shoveling): more adorable moments for dogs to play in the snow!  Here are some GIFs to get you in the spirit of winter precipitation, even if you’re sick of it already this year.

This french bulldog stealing a sled.

4 These GIFs of dogs playing in the snow will make you like snow again

This dog who doesn’t even need a sled.

dog 13cee4 1533616 These GIFs of dogs playing in the snow will make you like snow again

This shiba inu having the time of his life.

Snow Dog Ball These GIFs of dogs playing in the snow will make you like snow again

This dog skiing with more effortless grace than you ever could hope to.

Skiing Dog These GIFs of dogs playing in the snow will make you like snow again

This magically disappearing dog.

27a335db2e05d94fd9d457286f9921a0 These GIFs of dogs playing in the snow will make you like snow again

This incredibly talented pup.

%D0%B3 These GIFs of dogs playing in the snow will make you like snow again

This corgi who’s really happy to see you.

tumblr ma8ua9q3Da1qiwf8po1 500 These GIFs of dogs playing in the snow will make you like snow again

This same corgi who changes his mind.

tumblr ma8ua9q3Da1qiwf8po2 500 These GIFs of dogs playing in the snow will make you like snow again

This husky who is way more laid-back about the snow than you’ll ever be.

tumblr mhlpinvajm1rue90ro1 500 These GIFs of dogs playing in the snow will make you like snow again

These collies demonstrating the varied techniques of snowball catching.

8pH69A7 These GIFs of dogs playing in the snow will make you like snow again

This boxer showing the amateurs how snow romping is really done.

boxer dog in deep snow runs into camera 18402 These GIFs of dogs playing in the snow will make you like snow again

And this amateur showing everyone how it’s done.

dog in snow o These GIFs of dogs playing in the snow will make you like snow again

This corgi surveying his snow castle.

9 These GIFs of dogs playing in the snow will make you like snow again

This pup with the snowiest little nose ever.

12 These GIFs of dogs playing in the snow will make you like snow again

This bulldog, snowboarding like a pro.

snowboard dog a  These GIFs of dogs playing in the snow will make you like snow again

And this little fluffball, skating enthusiastically.

ice dog o  These GIFs of dogs playing in the snow will make you like snow again

Follow @megelizabeth

30 Dec 19:30

Six Fairy Tales for the Modern Woman

by Renee Lupica
by Renee Lupica

This post was originally published June 11, 2013.


Once upon a time a woman never got married, but had many fulfilling relationships, a job that kept her comfortable, an apartment that she got to decorate just for her, and hobbies that stimulated her mind.

The End.


Once upon a time a woman and a man tried having babies, but it didn't work, so when they were past the age of trying, they decided that they had enough disposable income to travel the world, and so they did, and it was awesome, and both of them felt okay about it, and no one gave them any grief over it, either.

The End.


Once upon a time a woman was approached by a drunk guy in a dark alley, but he was very polite, and explained that he had driven to the bar, but because he was responsible, he didn't want to drive home, but his cell phone was dead, so he asked the lady to call him a cab. She did, and he was grateful, and they said pleasant goodbyes before going their separate ways.

The End.


Once upon a time a woman was very good at her job, and she knew she had added value to the company she worked for, so even though she was nervous, she talked to her boss, and asked for a raise, and she got it.

The End.


Once upon a time a woman grew up in a land-locked state, and continued to live there because she had married her high school sweetheart, and his job was tied to the area, and she wanted to stay close to her parents, but she had always wished she had learned to surf. So when she turned 65 she used some of the money from her savings account, took her first ever solo vacation to the coast, and took a week's worth of surfing lessons, and had a very nice time.

The End.


Once upon a time a young girl grew up reading magazines about beauty products and consequently felt very self-conscious about her acne. She tried a bunch of treatments that had varying degrees of success, and never left the house without a full face of makeup. She started using anti-aging products when she was 20, thinking that prevention would work better than a cure. But when she turned 30 she still had acne that she had hoped to outgrow, but somehow it just didn't seem to matter as much. She would sometimes run errands without any makeup at all. And despite the preventative care she had tried to do in her early twenties, she started developing some wrinkles on her forehead in her late twenties. But again, somehow, it just didn't seem to bother her as much as the prospect had when she was younger. When she was in her forties her skin had continued to wrinkle, but she cared even less, and was pleased to see that the wrinkles around her eyes made it look like she smiled a lot, which made her smile more, and she cared even less, and she only wore makeup when she wanted to, and never felt obligated to do so. When she was 80 her skin was thinner and delicate, but reminded her of really beautiful tissue paper, and she was happier, and felt more confident as a person than she ever had.

The End.


Renee Lupica recently received a BFA in New Media. She recently began sleeping on two mattresses stacked on top of one another, and is beginning to understand how it might escalate, à la The Princess & The Pea. You can follow her on Twitter @rmlupica.

30 Dec 15:00

Two Women, Their Husbands, Their Cats, Their Alchemy

by Carrie Frye

Originally published April 5th, 2013.

"Beauty is a responsibility like anything else, beautiful women have special lives like prime ministers but I don't want that."

The writer and painter Leonora Carrington was 33 and a very beautiful woman when she wrote that line in The Hearing Trumpet, a book that is, among many other topics—alchemy, the Holy Grail, the perversities of nuns, the difficulties of getting goats and wolves to live together—also about being very, very old. This was in 1950; her best friend was a Spanish painter named Remedios Varo.

In the book, Carrington appears under the alias Marian Leatherby, who is 92 and has a beard. She has no teeth left and has become vegetarian "as I think it is wrong to deprive animals of their life when they are so difficult to chew anyway." Varo is the magical, enterprising and rather dashing Carmella Velasquez. She wears a red wig in a "queenly gesture to her long lost hair" and smokes cigars between sucking on violet lozenges. When Marian's family stows her away in a home for old ladies it's Carmella who, comfortingly, takes over the care of her cats.

Carrington died a couple years ago, at age 94—into her Marian Leatherby decade. Tomorrow would be her 96th birthday. When she wrote The Hearing Trumpet, she had, after a series of unlikely life twists, come to live in Mexico City. (The book contains her rueful, correct anticipation that she would never return permanently to England.) She was married with two young sons. In a letter written around this time: "… The Antichrists are antichristing each other with antichristly ferocity so I must go and make peace." Like Carrington, Varo had come to Mexico from Europe during WWII. They visited almost daily.

In 1950, Varo was in her early 40s. She did not have children—she had cats, many, many cats and a series of lovers and husbands who, while diverting and sometimes quite impressive, did not, as a rule, have much more fixed income than the cats. (This would change with her last husband.) These men were amiable, though, and they remained devoted; she was the sort of person whose exes forever address her as "your admiring friend." "My very dear Remedios … your hair is like the roots of invisible stars," goes one letter. From a book inscription: "To Remedios whose two breasts are my two hemispheres."

Still a few years away from her greatest successes as a painter, Varo supported herself (and the cats and others) in her first years in Mexico with commercial work. A partial list of her jobs, taken from Janet Kaplan's essential study: She made dioramas for the war effort; she painted furniture; she created commercial art for Bayer; she did scientific drawings of insects; she designed and sewed costumes for the theater. (In Europe, while getting by in France at the outset of the war, she'd faked some de Chiricos and sold candy.) It has to have been a strain and a scramble, though what everyone remarked about her was her liveliness and extreme generosity. "These were not just nice ideas"—said one friend, of the works she undertook on behalf of others—"her head and her heart were united in an extraordinary way."

Carrington told one chronicler that she wrote The Hearing Trumpet in a café in the Plaza de los Mariachis "in the midst of cacophonous noise." That seems fitting. As does the 26-year waiting period between its writing and publication. (The illustrations are by Carrington's second son Pablo Weisz Carrington—which is funny, especially when he's illustrating Marian's cowardly son Galahad.) It has, as you read, the feel of a story dashed off by one friend for the express cackling amusement of another, a very particular Ideal Reader. The writing has a kind of glissading bumptious kangaroo splendor as it moves along but that beauty doesn't seem summoned to formally impress so much as delight. The tone is jaunty and benevolently wicked: "Here we are at the end of everything. I have a beard, you have a wig! HAHAHAHAHAHA!"

Crookhey Hall (1947)

Leonora Carrington liked fairy tales and nursery rhymes; and it's wonderful how much of her early life obligingly flows in a fairy-tale vein. (Susan Aberth's book on Carrington provides excellent background here.) She grew up in a house called Crookhey Hall, a Gothic mansion built by one Colonel Bird who, in honor of his surname, had bird ornamentation put in all around the place—and so Carrington's first drawings began with birds. Her father was "the richest man in Lancashire"; he sold his textile company to what became a part of Imperial Chemical Industries, which, if you are going to have a remote, forbidding father, is exactly the board he should sit on. The Carringtons were only two generations into riches, though; his own father was a mill hand who had patented a valuable thingamajig. The family was, in other words, bourgeois, not aristocratic or intellectual. Her mother, the daughter of an Irish doctor, was Catholic. There was an older brother and two younger ones; their names seem unimportant. Of everyone and everything that existed at Crookhey Hall, Leonora later spoke lovingly of three things: Her mother Maureen, her Irish nanny Mary Cavanaugh, and her horse, Winkie.

By 17 she'd been kicked out of two convent schools and scraped through stints at finishing schools in Florence and Paris. She was allowed some time at a London art school. Here she is with her mother during her debutante season at their presentation at King George V's court in 1934.

She later wrote the story "The Debutante," in which the narrator sends a hyena to a ball in her place: "My mother came in, pale with fury. 'We had just sat down to eat,' she said, 'when that thing in your place gets up and cries, ‘I smell a bit strong, eh? Well I don’t eat cake.' Then she tore off her face and ate it. With one bound she disappeared through the window."

Not long after the presentation, she'd met the surrealist painter Max Ernst, nearly 20 years older than she and married, and disappeared with him through the window to France, never to return.

"Self-Portrait (Inn of the Dawn Horse (1937-8) features a hyena. (It's part of the Met's collection.)
The photo below it was taken around the same time, in Cornwall.

Remedios Varo also went to convent school, and she painted this autobiographical series about her school time. It's impossible to see unless you're up close, but in the second one, Embroidering Earth's Mantle, the heroine of the triptych—the one who catches your eye in the first painting—has "embroidered a trick in which one can see her together with her lover," which leads the way to the third painting.

Toward the Tower (1960)

Embroidering Earth's Mantle (1961)

The Escape (1961)

Varo's father, Don Rodrigo, was Andalusian; her mother Ignacia was Basque. Like Carrington, Varo preferred her mother's company, finding her father domineering and crowding. He had ambitions for her. He was an engineer, and she learned draftsmanship from him. As Kaplan recounts, he frequently took her to museums as well as made her copy (and recopy) his mechanical drawings. This education stayed with her. Varo's paintings often featured ingenious conveyances and other inventive bits of engineering ("pull that string and that odd-looking shell-like coat becomes a boat in which you can float away"), meticulously rendered.

For some reason this stray detail about her father's life stands out as oddly poignant and funny: "Varo's father was one of the few people in Spain to study the universal language Esperanto." It gives a sense of the excess energy, the questing-ness that he passed along to his daughter. Here's the melancholy father-daughter ride Caravan, painted in 1955.

Leonora and Remedios met at least once or twice in Paris before the war. They were both orbiting within the inner surrealist circle. Varo had fled Franco's Spain with the poet Benjamin Péret, and Carrington was Ernst's companion (to his wife's vocal chagrin). They were both younger women in relationships with older, much more famous men. Varo described the period as one of "awe." Carrington was less awed by the company: Joan Miró "gave me some money one day and told me to get him some cigarettes. I gave it back and said if he wanted cigarettes, he could bloody well get them himself. I wasn't daunted by any of them."

Surrealism celebrated the idea of the femme-enfant, the muse-like woman-child who, as Aberth puts it, "through her naiveté is in direct connection with her own unconscious and can, therefore, serve as a guide for man." (Urf.) When Carrington arrived in Paris, she was embraced as the quintessential femme-enfant (and here we find that the young, striking-looking, confident and talented heiress will be warmly greeted most everywhere she travels). She later shrugged off the title: "I didn’t have time to be anyone’s muse… I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist."

Still, she was in her early 20s; she was brilliant; she would have wanted all the other brilliant dazzling people to take notice. She went to one party dressed only in a sheet and dropped it mid-party. Out to a fusty dinner, she took off her shoes and spread the tops of her feet with mustard. And yet even as she and her paintings gained recognition, one part of her must have been standing apart and surveying the scene, thinking, thinking. (Even, or especially, about her relationship with Ernst, who had a knack for getting older while the femme-enfants stayed the same age. Or as Carrington put it: "Once you were over 25 you were pretty well out.") The croneishness of bearded Marian and bald Carmella seem in the context of the femme-enfant like an extra good, extra dark joke. To repeat Marian's line, "Beauty is a responsibility like anything else, beautiful women have special lives like prime ministers but I don't want that." The "I don't want that" falls as she's sifting around for a memory—but it's obviously about more than that, too.

When the war came, Carrington was living with Ernst in a farmhouse in France. ("Ah, Provence. … I was very happy there. I worked, I painted, I had a vine I looked after.") They'd ignored the warnings of family and friends to leave. Once war was declared, Ernst was sent for interment in a camp with other German nationals. After his arrest, Carrington made her way to Madrid. The plan was to work for Ernst's release there, but after a hellish journey, she had a nervous breakdown. "In the political confusion and the torrid heat, I convinced myself that Madrid was the world's stomach and that I had been chosen for the task of restoring this digestive organ to health," she recorded. She shared this theory with some authorities at the British embassy, after which she was committed to a Spanish asylum where she was given the anti-psychotic drug Cardiazol. This induced convulsions, and in that condition she was "left for days strapped to a bed."

Eventually she was released. Meanwhile, her family had sent her nanny by submarine—let's repeat that, sent her nanny by submarine—to fetch her and take her to an asylum in South Africa. Dutiful historian-ship forces me to mention that other accounts have it not being the nanny-in-a-submarine, but a business acquaintance of her father's (transport uncharted—one can only hope dog sled) on the scene. Either way, Carrington gave her minders the slip by saying she had to go the bathroom, slipping out a café back door, hailing a taxi, and going to the Mexican embassy. There she had an old friend, Renato Leduc, who, in addition to his job as a diplomat, was a poet and friend of Picasso's. He was also gallant. He offered to marry her, making it impossible for her family to force her anywhere. After a waiting period in Lisbon, they sailed to New York and then, after some time there, moved on together to Mexico.

(Ernst, released from detention, had been in Lisbon too, now in company with Peggy Guggenheim and her money. This waiting-for-passage period was by all accounts a dreadful, jealous time for everyone, including Guggenheim, who probably should have just hired a submarine to take herself out of there.)

Meanwhile, Varo and Péret's wartime hopscotching took them from Paris to Marseille to Casablanca to Mexico City. The two were incredibly lucky to escape. Before leaving Paris, Varo was detained by the police for a few months. That time period, at least, is the most likely estimate: the actual specifics of her detainment are unknown, because she refused to ever speak of them. When she and Péret landed in Mexico City they found an apartment—you entered through a window and there were holes in the floors "we used… as ashtrays but you had to know where to step." Varo pinned up the Picassos and Ernsts they'd come away with; she found work; she began assembling cats.

Once he performed his duties as a friend and escort, Leduc seems to have wandered off in some amicable, permanent way (I picture him just fading from sight as he goes down the block). In the crowd of Europeans in Mexico City, she met Chiki Weisz, a Hungarian photographer. Chiki was a nickname; his first name was Emerico. They were married in 1946—in a marvelous photo of the wedding day, taken by their good friend Kati Horna, there is Varo grinning and peering over Carrington's shoulder.

Antichrist 1 (Gabriel) came along later that year; Antichrist 2 (Pablo) followed in 1948. Her pregnancies were a great time for her painting. As she explained in a letter to her friend, the British art collector Edward James: "Inspired painting, I find, favors a rather bucolic and opaque frame of mind on a continually replenished stomach – preferably with heavy and indigestible foods such as chocolate, sickly cakes, marzipan in blocks… That is why I painted so beautifully when I was pregnant, I did nothing but eat."

James was extremely rich and eccentric; he was also one of Carrington's first patrons, buying up many of her works and helping to arrange her first major show in New York, in 1948. (In The Hearing Trumpet he's gifted a role as Marian's mysterious and globetrotting friend Marlborough.)

About his first visit to her Mexico City studio he wrote:

Leonora Carrington's studio had everything most conducive to make it the true matrix of true art. Small in the extreme, it was an ill-furnished and not very well lighted room. It had nothing to endow it with the title of studio at all, save a few almost worn-out paintbrushes and a number of gesso panels, set on a dog and cat populated floor, leaning face-averted against a white-washed and peeling wall. The place was combined kitchen, nursery, bedroom, kennel and junk store. The disorder was apocalyptic: the appurtenances of the poorest. My hopes and expectations began to swell.

The Giantess, below, was commissioned by James.

Bird Pong (1949)

The Giantess (1949)—yes, you recognize this from the Madonna video

Are You Really Syrious? (1953)

In The Hearing Trumpet, they're Marian Leatherby & Carmella Velasquez. In a story of Varo's, they're Ellen Ramsbottom and Felina Caprino Mandragora. Ellen's interests include "somniotelepathic phenomenon," while Felina is "a goat when sleeping and a woman with 'vague little horns' when awake."

In their visits to each other, they put together elaborate practical jokes. Other times, they "would just get together and laugh." There were secrets, said one friend, "that Remedios would talk about with no one but Leonora." They cooked together—and jokes became cooking recipes became "recipes that promised an array of magical results"—that is, spells—became inquiries into alchemy.

Varo in Mexico City.

One joke-recipe: Tapioca spritzed with squid ink, served as caviar. In an email, Aberth said they served this once to Octavio Paz: "He fell for it, much to their delight." (This is one that seems, admittedly, like it was probably more riotous at the time; perhaps squid ink was more plentiful then, too.) Other recipes contained advice "for scaring away inopportune dreams, insomnia and deserts of quicksand under the bed." A recipe for dreaming you were the king of England called for "a sable brush to paint egg white all over the dreamer's body." And here you will find Varo's full recipe for erotic dreams, which includes as ingredients: "a kilo of horseradish, three white hens, a head of garlic, four kilos of honey, a mirror, two calf livers, a brick, two clothespins, a corset with stays, two false mustaches and hats to taste."

Varo was busy with commercial work during this first blazing period of their friendship and so not painting as much as Carrington, but her notebooks are filled with the recipes, letters, stories, and plays written in a journal-y conversation with her. One dream description: "I am washing a blonde kitten in the sink of some hotel, but that's not right it looks like Leonora wearing a loose overcoat that needs washing."

A note from Leonora written in French on a drawing:

Remedios, I told you that I am making you a spell against [the evil eye]. There it is. Last night I had a fever of 38, auto-suggestion perhaps—I do not feel well enough to go out—Come to see me if you can? Can both of you come to drink your tequila? … Leonora.

I love the intimacy and lunacy of that note.

Here's one very funny fact about Remedios Varo: She lied about her age. It's not clear when it started, but, in her book, Kaplan suggests it might have begun when she was in Paris, among the surrealists, and feeling at 30 a little long in the tooth for a femme-enfant—so presto, magic, she became 25 instead. This age-shaving lasted even after her death: her tombstone gives her birth year as 1913, not 1908. (Interestingly, in The Hearing Trumpet, while Marian volunteers her own age, she doesn't announce Carmella's.)

In 1950, at 42 (or "37"), Varo's life was taking a prosperous, happy turn. She's gotten married to a businessman named Walter Gruen, who, unlike her previous affiances, was comfortably well off. Gruen pushed her to return to painting full time and show her work, which she'd been timid to do. A group show in 1955 and a solo one in 1956 brought her wide acclaim. This letter to her mother after the solo show is wildly triumphant: the show, she reports, "was a great success and there were hundreds of people. For my character this is rather painful. But I have sold all of my paintings and I am richer than a toreador. Because of this, whatever you fancy is yours for the asking…" I am richer than a toreador!

Photograph taken in Marseille in 1941.

Remedios died, very suddenly, in 1963 from what was almost certainly a heart attack. Some speculative talk circulated that it was possibly suicide—she was going through an anxious, fearful period—but that seems unlikely. One growing source of anxiety for her was aging. She frequently told friends about a Carmelite nunnery in Spain "where she planned to seek retreat if things ever grew too difficult." (Carmelite/Carmella.) The convent was founded by an ancestor of hers, Don Rodrigo de Varo y de Antequera. But on a visit there, Kaplan discovered that she wouldn't have been allowed entry.

As explained by one of the nuns, a disembodied voice speaking to her visitor from behind an impenetrable wall, although they venerate the memory of Don Rodrigo—keeping his cranial bones and portrait on permanent display—no worldly woman, not even one named Varo, could ever expect them to open their doors to her.

Given her great unhappiness in convent school, it seems perverse that Varo daydreamed of spending her last years sequestered in a nunnery: "Here is my masterful painting The Escape… then here is my next one called The Return." But speaking to visitors in 2009, Carrington observed, "I miss England. … Although I probably just miss the past." The twinned pattern here feels instructive: There's the longing to disappear out the window; the bounding escape; then the realization years later that that window got shut firmly behind you.

But then: So what? There we are out in the world, me with this beard, you in that wig. HAHAHAHAHA.

Previously: How To Be A Monster: Life Lessons From Lord Byron

Carrie Frye is here and here.

The post Two Women, Their Husbands, Their Cats, Their Alchemy appeared first on The Awl.