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30 Mar 18:45

Every TV news economic report ever, in one brilliant video

by Joe Veix
generic-economic-report

This clip, from Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe, is a pretty ingenious and hilarious distillation of everything wrong with economic reports on TV news shows. It mocks the cliche format that attempts to make compelling television out of the massive, incomprehensible systems that fuck us all over daily. In other words, it’s pointing out the obvious: Economic reports are bullshit. Fun stuff.

The subtext here, if it even needs to be said, is that the attempt to make stock market figures into good television ultimately removes anything meaningful about them, making an economic report not dissimilar to a sports report, at the expense of, say, actually pointing out that our economic system itself is rigged and corrupt and renders humans worthless. It’s kind of like the Generic Brand Video, except way more depressing and hopeless.

[h/t Kottke]

23 Mar 16:00

A Dress To Die For

by Katy Kelleher
by Katy Kelleher

V0042226 Two skeletons dressed as lady and gentleman. Etching, 1862.
With gifts they shall be sent,
Gifts to the bride to spare their banishment,
Fine robings and a carcanet of gold.
Which raiment let her once but take, and fold
About her, a foul death that girl shall die
And all who touch her in her agony.
Such poison shall they drink, my robe and wreath!
Howbeit, of that no more. I gnash my teeth
Thinking on what a path my feet must tread
Thereafter. I shall lay those children dead—
Mine, whom no hand shall steal from me away!
Then, leaving Jason childless, and the day
As night above him, I will go my road
To exile, flying, flying from the blood
Of these my best-beloved, and having wrought
All horror, so but one thing reach me not,
The laugh of them that hate us.

Let it come!

Is it possible to read Medea without getting chills? Long before Taylor Swift faux-dismissed her haters, who are going to hate, hate, hate, Medea gnashed her teeth and shouted to the fates, “Let it come!” Rather than shake it off or preach a milquetoast revenge of living well, she razed her own precious life to the ground. Medea salted the earth and killed her children. She destroyed her cheating husband. And most importantly for this particular article, she murdered her competition with the trappings of royalty. She sent the princess Glauce a golden dress drenched in poison.

Medea was the first Greek play I ever read the whole way through, and that crazy queen has a special place in my heart. When she speaks, anger permeates every sentence; poison seems to seep from the page. Some of the anger is righteous—after all, she was just kicked out of her own home by her husband, Jason, who returns from war with a new, younger girl in tow. But Glauce doesn’t deserve death by dress any more than Medea’s children deserve to be slaughtered.

Medea is not the earliest mention of a poisoned dress in history, but it remains one of the most powerful in Western literature. Similar myths have shown up in ancient Hebrew, India, and modern Europe. According to one Greek myth, Hercules was killed by a poisoned robe that burned his skin and flayed him alive.

Like other narrative arcs that replay over and over in our fairy tales and myths, the poison dress resonates for a reason. Clothing is intended to shelter us, to provide a firm barrier between the squishy stuff of our personhood and the sharp edges of the outside world. Clothing should protect us and shield our nervous parts from the thorns of Eden.

But despite its intended function, clothing is often harmful—particularly to the women who wear it and the workers who make it. Beauty is pain. And it’s a pain that begins far before Glauce tightens the strings on her golden bodice, long before ladies shimmied into their arsenic-laced gowns, long before we stepped into our Forever 21 high heels and stumbled towards the nearest bar. It’s a pain that begins in production.

* * *

In falling down the rabbit hole of research about the myth of the poisoned dress, I came across an etching titled “The Arsenic Waltz” from 1862. The satirical image shows two skeletons dressed to the nines. The gentleman stands, hat in hand, and offers his other hand to the lady. Her bony torso rises from a big pouf of a gown, as fussy as a cupcake. On her head sits a mess of silk flowers. “The New Dance of Death,” reads the caption.

This morbid cartoon perfectly illustrates the arsenic hysteria of the Victorian age and the hazardous green dye. Magazines of the time frequently lampooned the cultural obsession with the vibrant, rich hue that went by many names, including Paris green, Poison green, Schweinfurt green, and Vienna green. An earlier green, called Scheele green, after its inventor Carl Scheele, was developed in 1775 using arsenic as one of the main chemical components. The color was further refined in the following decades. The yellow tones were scaled back, resulting in a brillianpure green that is now often called “Jungle.” This bright emerald color was used to taint everything from fabric to wallpaper to candles. Even William Morris, the great pattern maker and leader of the Arts and Crafts movement, used arsenic in his wares—in fact, his family owned the largest arsenic mine in England, so you could say all his green was poison green.

“Some have called the nineteenth century ‘The Arsenic Century,’” says Alison Matthews David, an associate professor at the School of Fashion at Ryerson University in Toronto. In 2014, David worked alongside Bata Shoe Museum Senior Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack to create the exhibition Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century. According to David, arsenic-laced dyes were used in the production of many goods, not all of them gendered. However, “the rhetoric is always directed against the women wearing these dresses and shoes,” she says. “Why did they persist in wearing it? But if you were a middle-class or upper-class woman, you were expected to wear it.” If you find this double bind completely shocking, then perhaps you haven’t been paying attention to women’s fashion and the conversation surrounding it, like, ever.

Although the Victorian media focused on warning men about the risks of dancing (and other, less vertically inclined things) with these femme fatales, the real danger wasn’t in wearing or touching the fashionable items. Sure, you might get an unsightly rash from wearing a dress dyed with arsenic. You might even wind up inhaling small amounts of it. But this was nothing compared to what the seamstresses suffered. “As they ripped green fabric apart, they would inhale everything that came off it,” explains David. She refers to the case of a 19-year-old silk flower maker in London who was killed by her exposure to the poison. “Arsenic can cause skin cancer, among other problems. The things they were working with had long-term effects. Conditions were just horrific.”

While fine ladies suffered from rashes, the women who made these dresses were in for something much worse. Arsenic poisoning begins with headaches, confusion, and diarrhea, and ends with comas and death. In between, you’re likely to experience a number of unpleasant things, including hair loss, bloody urine, convulsions, cramps, liver disease, and lots and lots of digestive problems. It is not a pretty way to die.

* * *

“Girl wears new formal gown to dance. Several times during the evening she feels faint, has escort take her outside for fresh air. Finally she becomes really ill, dies in the restroom. Investigation reveals that the dress has been the cause of her death. It had been used as the funeral dress for a young girl; it had been removed from the corpse before burial and returned to the store. The formaldehyde which the dress has absorbed from the corpse enters the pores of the dancing girl.”
- The Encyclopedia of Urban Legends by Jan Harold Brunvand

While poisoned garments were an actual problem of the Victorian age, the myth of the poisoned dress that kills its wearer is most likely just that—a myth. David and her colleagues haven’t found any solid evidence of death by gown, and yet this idea persists. It appeared in the 1998 movie Elizabeth, in which a handmaiden was killed by a gown intended for the queen (a completely fabricated bit of drama). The Encyclopedia of Urban Legends calls “The Poison Dress” or “Embalmed Alive” one of the earliest urban legends noted by American folklorists. Often, the story would include references to a specific department store where the dead girl supposedly purchased her dress. Some believe that the story was circulated by stores looking to discredit their rivals, an early form of particularly virulent viral marketing.

* * *

In researching the case of the poisoned dress, I was struck over and over by the repetitive nature of our fashion woes. It’s been hundreds of years, and yet we’re still blaming the fashion victim for the hurts her clothes cause. We’re still buying clothes that are made by workers in conditions that can be accurately called “horrific.” We’re still consumed by a desire to be pretty. To wear the right colors and own the right things. At least, I am.

I said at the beginning of this piece that the myth persists because the poison dresses betray the very concept of clothing. But perhaps the reason it sticks in my gut is because of something even more threatening than the familiar perverted, because that's what the poison gown is—a familiar object made unfamiliar by unseen forces. Maybe this myth—and occasional reality—doesn’t matter to modern readers because it illuminates a primal fear or despicable betrayal. Maybe the takeaway isn’t that that arsenic is fascinating (though it is) or that Medea is kind of awesome (which she is). Maybe the more important point is this: we can’t have nice things, not really. Not without some consequence. Not without paying a higher price.

Katy Kelleher is a writer living in Portland, Maine. She is currently collecting ghost stories. Have a good one? Email her at katykelleher@gmail.com.

6 Comments
28 Mar 02:12

Junk Explained: How To Get Around The Government’s New Data Retention Laws

by Oscar Schwartz

Hi there. Would you mind if I followed you around with a notebook for the next two years and recorded the name of everyone you had a conversation with, the time, and the location? I also plan on giving this notebook to the police if they want it. But don’t worry — I’m not going to listen to the conversations. I’ll block my ears and avert my gaze. I wouldn’t want to invade your privacy.

Admittedly, this might be a bit of an overstatement of what the new data retention laws which passed in the Senate yesterday actually are, but at least I have your attention, which is good, because if you’re like me and you use the internet a lot, this issue is something you should know about.

So, How Paranoid Should I Be?

These new laws require Australian telecommunication providers to record and store phone and internet records for two years, and also give security agencies access to these records whenever they want, even if they don’t have a warrant. While Greens Senator Scott Ludlum voiced strong opposition, the legislation had bipartisan support, passing 43 votes to 16. This means that within 18 months, your internet service provider will be storing your metadata — information about where, when and with whom you have your conversations — and potentially passing this information onto the police without your knowledge.

The purpose of this, apparently, is to protect Australia from terrorist threats and child pornography, but this comes at the expense of placing the entire population under implicit surveillance. This is the first time in history such broad and comprehensive surveillance has even be possible, and therefore we really don’t even know what we’re getting ourselves in for, or how this bill will impact the very idea of democracy.

As it stands, there is no definition for the word “metadata” in Australian law, and George Brandis, who spearheaded the legislation, can offer you no explanation either. Tony Abbott has metaphorically described it as the envelope carrying the letter, rather than the content of the letter itself and he is right, in a typically old-fashioned sense. Metadata is the information about a conversation — who, when, where — without divulging what the conversation was about.

But an analogue definition of metadata fails in a digital age, because it is much more complicated to separate the who, when and where from the what in an online environment. This is because when we use the internet we’re constantly leaving traces of previously unimaginable forms of identifiable data, not just a name and address printed on the front of an envelope. For instance, according to the new legislation, metadata is your IP address, but not your browser history. And that’s all well and good, but how many Australian citizens know what an IP address is and what type of information it gives away?

Everyone’s been doing their best by publishing explainers and warnings, but once you start throwing around the word “data” a lot people understandably tune out.

This the heart of the issue. Because internet technology is constantly changing, no one knows exactly what internet metadata is. The whole conversation remains confusing and murky, and what we need with this new legislation is transparency and clarity. It’s a shame that this term causes so much confusion because the conversation around data retention is complex and involves more important questions about the future of privacy and anonymity.

In fact, this legislation is so problematic that the guy who introduced the bill into Parliament, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, has practically given us a guide for how to circumvent the scheme.

While discussing the threat this posed to journalists on Sky News, he suggested Australians can use overseas communication services like Whatsapp and Skype, in order to avoid detection. He willingly explained that Australian telcos can only track that you’ve connected with these servers, but not who you’re talking to.

Yes, it’s confusing that he would effectively invalidate a new $188-319 million system, but since Malcolm Turnbull’s clearly on board with the idea, here are four other ways that you can ensure your anonymity online.

1. Use An Overseas Email

This is a really simple one. Just use gmail or some other overseas email service to communicate. Or use Facebook or Twitter direct messaging. You probably already do this anyway. There is no way Google or Facebook or Twitter are going to give up their data to the Australian police because of this new legislation, so say whatever the hell you want.

2. Use Tor

Tor is a browser that operates by bouncing communications off servers around the world to make it difficult to detect the user’s IP address. An IP address is one of the most telling forms of metadata available online. Using this browser in the right way means that security agencies won’t be able to track where and when you’re using the internet.

Added bonus: their logo includes an onion.

tor

Come at me, Tone.

3. Use VPN

A Virtual Private Network uses the public infrastructure of the internet to provide individual users with secure access. Basically, you subscribe to the VPN via a monthly payment, and then your internet activity becomes reliably anonymous. Your data is automatically encrypted at the sending end and decrypted at the receiving end. There are heaps of VPN-like services available for private use, and most will only set you back about $10 per month.

4. Encrypt Your Own Shit

This is a lifestyle choice rather than a paragraph, but there are a bunch of sites that will teach you how to get started. If this is the life you choose, hit me up with some hot tips. Clearly, you’re not going to have any problems with these new laws.

20 Mar 03:14

Indigenous Actor Mark Coles Smith’s Reply To Tony Abbott’s “Lifestyle Choices” Comment Is Going Viral

by Alex McKinnon

Last week Tony Abbott’s description of remote Indigenous communities as a “lifestyle choice” became Exhibit #11,705 in the planned National Terrible Things Tony Abbott Has Said Museum (opening date est. 2016), and generated a stack of online insta-outrage, including on this website. But Abbott’s mouth-fart inadvertently had bigger consequences by briefly drawing people’s attention to a series of terrible decisions by both state and federal Liberal governments that will see up to 210 of those communities in Western and South Australia being shut down and their inhabitants forcibly moved away.

Most media attention has since been drawn away by the ongoing spectacle of a Prime Minister visibly imploding like a dwarf star, but opposition to the closures of these communities has rapidly grown into a pretty formidable social movement. The last week alone has seen the campaign gather immense momentum; yesterday saw Close The Gap Day rallies in up to a dozen cities around the country, a petition calling on WA Premier Colin Barnett to abandon the closures has gathered over 30,000 signatures, and on Twitter #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA has seen thousands of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, including actors, politicians and sportspeople, lend their support to remote communities.

AFL STARS Neville Jetta, Heritier Lumumba, Jay Kennedy-Harris: “NO CLOSURES” #sosblakaustralia #Melbourne @Utopiana pic.twitter.com/yqYy7wc0Ej

— Les Thomas (@les_thomas) March 19, 2015

“Today is supposed to be #ClosetheGap Day, it feels like the Grand Canyon” @NovaPeris #sosBlackAustralia pic.twitter.com/pDAvjYItnP — © Indigenist™ (@DameyonBonson) March 19, 2015

This always was, always will be Aboriginal land #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA pic.twitter.com/rMIHpsR8DN — Christine Milne (@senatormilne) March 19, 2015

A photo posted by Hugh Jackman (@thehughjackman) on

One of the most eloquent rationales for supporting the campaign came from Indigenous actor Mark Coles Smith, who released a video on Facebook yesterday pointing out the immense flaws in the plan to close communities, savaging the political mindset behind it, and noting that the cost of keeping communities open is a fraction of what Australia gives the mining industry in tax concessions each year. It’s since been viewed almost 60,000 times.

As phrases go, “greedy dickheadyphilis” isn’t a bad one to coin.

Like SOS Blak Australia on Facebook here, and find more information at SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA.com.

10 Mar 17:30

12 Badass Women Authors You Should Be Reading Now

by The Hairpin Sponsors
by The Hairpin Sponsors

badass_women_300x250

Brought to you by Open Road Media.

There are scores of brilliant women writers worth spending your precious time on. Here we present just 12 of those authors — along with some of the incredible characters they bring to life — in genres ranging from autobiography to suspense to science fiction. So what are you waiting for? Download an ebook and start educating yourself.



Octavia E. Butler

img-octavia-butler_183522117005
Octavia E. Butler was a trailblazer for women in the science fiction field. She was also the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Fellowship, nicknamed the “genius grant.” Butler used the hyperbolic reach of speculative fiction to explore social issues including race, sexuality, gender, religion, social progress, and class. For example, in Bloodchild, an alien race uses human males to bring forth their children; arguably no other science fiction story out there packs such a punch about gender, family, and choice. When she passed at a young age in 2006, the whole science fiction community mourned the loss of this genius.

Sparkle Hayter

sparkle-hayter

Before writing her breakthrough Robin Hudson series, Sparkle Hayter worked as a reporter for CNN, WABC and Global Television. During the Afghan civil war, she traveled to Pakistan — following the Mujahedin to Afghanistan as a reporter for The Toronto Star. After returning to the U.S. she got married, wrote her first (less than successful) book, moved to Tokyo, got divorced, and lived in the famous Chelsea Hotel. Only then did she write her breakthrough novel.

In What’s a Girl Gotta Do, Robin Hudson is a third-rate newscaster struggling to find love and solve murders in New York City’s East Village. She’s successful, outspoken, and has an unabashed love for the opposite sex. Part Carrie Bradshaw, part Sherlock Holmes, she's no damsel in distress, which is why we love this vivacious, sassy, and sexy sleuth.

Barbara Parker

barbara-parker

A successful female lawyer turned author, Barbara Parker's Suspicion of Innocence follows Gail Conner’s success as a fast-rising attorney at a major law firm who is about to make partner, when she becomes the prime suspect in her sister’s murder. Gail fearlessly takes matters into her own hands to fight the system that is trying to bring her down. She proves that she’s not one to be pushed around by the big boys in this legal thriller.



Ruth Rendell

ruth-rendell

Not only is Ruth Rendell a badass who has been pioneering the modern suspense novel since 1964, she's also a bonafide baroness — technically, the Baroness of Babergh — and sits in the House of Lords for the Labour Party. So, it's no surprise that her book, The Crocodile Bird also features two very badass characters. Liza is a life-long hermit whose mother has been busy murdering men. However, after a visit from the police, Liza gets the chance to start her own life, minus the murderous mother, and with new lover in hand. She gets a rude awakening though, when she realizes just how similar she is to her sinister mother in this tale of an obsessive mother-daughter bond that is very hard to break.

Robin McKinley

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Robin McKinley has been praised for her contributions to the fantasy genre and noted for her novels featuring strong heroines who appeal to both children and adults. She has won some of the world’s top awards for her writing, including the Newbery Medal for The Hero and the Crown and a Newbery Honor for The Blue Sword. Her novel Deerskin, a fairy-tale retelling of Charles Perrault's Donkeyskin, is a remarkably magical, challenging, and important work about surviving rape, and about perseverance and self-love.


Jane Yolen

img-jane-yolen-author-photo_175350610876
One of the most acclaimed and honored authors in science fiction and fantasy, Jane Yolen has been called “the Hans Christian Andersen of America” (Newsweek) for her brilliant reimagining of classic fairy tales. Her accolades include the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Awards, the Kerlan Award, two Christopher Awards, and six honorary doctorate degrees from universities in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Cards of Grief is about an alien civilization forever changed by the incursion of human social scientists, and invites us to take a closer look at what humanity means.

Ultra Violet

Ultra Violet
Ultra Violet was one of Andy Warhol’s “Superstars.” Born Isabelle Collin Dufresne, she was a muse of Salvador Dali before meeting Warhol in the 1960s and becoming a regular at Warhol’s Silver Factory. Ultra Violet (a name she took on after her hair color of choice) went on to star in many of Warhol’s films in the 1960s and 70s, and eventually left the Factory in the 80s to pursue her own art. Her memoir Famous for Fifteen Minutes details her time as a Warhol superstar.

Robyn Davidson

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 9.34.19 AM
At age 27, Robyn Davidson walked across the Australian desert, accompanied only by her dog and four camels. In her memoir Tracks (now a major motion picture) Davidson recounts her journey, even more harrowing then Cheryl Strayed’s trek across the PNT.



Robin Morgan

Robin Morgan Author Photo
Award-winning poet, novelist, journalist and feminist leader Robin Morgan first appeared to the public eye at a young age with her own radio show Little Robin Morgan and later with her role in television’s Mama. But Morgan left the life of stardom to become a key figure in the global women’s movement, whose work as an activist spans from the 1960s to today (including leading the first protest against the Miss America Pageant.) In 2005 she co-founded the Women’s Media Center with Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda. Her memoir Saturday’s Child chronicles her transition from child star to activist.





Elsa Lewin

I, Anna

Anna — the protagonist in Elsa Lewin's I, Anna (made into a film of the same name) — is as badass as it gets. After splitting from her husband, Anna sets out to find a new man, flirting her way through Manhattan’s single scene. She decides to have a one-night stand, but the next morning, Anna’s lover is dead – and she’s the main suspect. When a handsome lawyer is appointed to her case, Anna can’t help but switch on her powers of manipulation one more time in this sinister novel that has you guessing the outcome.






James Tiptree, Jr.

tiptree
James Tiptree, Jr. was the pseudonym of the late Alice Bradley Sheldon. She wrote for years in the ‘60s and ‘70s under the male pseudonym in secret, and wrote the male point of view so well that several prominent science fiction authors who’d praised her writing as obviously masculine were a bit embarrassed by the revelation. An ex-CIA employee, Sheldon had the honor of being known as one of the best science fiction writers of the twentieth century. Brightness Falls from the Air is a science fiction tale set far in the future and far away, but the themes of exploitation and complicity have much to say about here and now.



Radclyffe Hall

Radclyffe_Hall
Best know for penning the first lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness in 1928, Radclyffe Hall made waves when her publisher was put on trial and the novel was banned under Britain’s Obscene Publications Act. Distinguished author Diana Souhami brings Radclyffe Hall to life in her Lambda Award-winning biography The Trials of Radclyffe Hall. Souhami’s portrait of Hall gives an intimate look into the fascinating personal and professional life of a daring and controversial woman.

1 Comments
09 Mar 20:30

Approved Catcalls

by Emily Henry
by Emily Henry

catcalls_texas-2

YOUR MIND IS BEAUTIFUL, YOUR BODY STRONG, AND I WANT TO BUY YOU A BURRITO, IF YOU'D LIKE. IF NOT, B-).

SORRY IT LOOKED LIKE I WAS WINKING. I HAD DUST IN MY EYE AND I WAS TRYING TO CHOOSE A FAVE BEYONCE SONG. COULDN'T DO IT!!

DO U LIKE SPIRIT ANIMAL QUIZZES? ME TOO! WHAT'S UR FAVE STEVIE SONG? STEVE NICKS, I MEAN.

I’M SURE YOU'RE BUSY. THIS WILL ONLY TAKE A SECOND AS YOU'RE BIKING PAST: I BET YOU HAVE AN INDOMITABLE SPIRIT.

catcalls_brie

I HOPE YOU'RE EXPERIENCING DEEP, PROFOUND JOY DESPITE ALL THE BAD THINGS HAPPENING IN OUR SHARED WORLD.

I LOVE MULDER'S ONE-LINERS BUT I CAN'T HELP BUT THINK SCULLY'S THE BACKBONE OF THE DUO. SHE KEEPS THINGS AFLOAT.

WOULD YOU LET ME BUY YOU BBQ? IF YOU ARE VEGAN, I ALSO KNOW OF A VEGAN BBQ RESTAURANT.
IT'S REALLY GOOD.

ISN'T IT STUPID HOW OUR CULTURE SHAMES PEOPLE FOR LIKING FAST-PACED EXCITING BOOKS???

I AGREE THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH ENJOYING ROMANCE IN BOOKS AND MOVIES. IT'S FINE!!!

catcalls_polibolous

IF I WERE A FROZEN BEVERAGE, I'D BE A SHAMROCK SHAKE. CARE TO SHARE WHAT YOU'D BE? NO? OK, I HOPE YOU HAVE A NICE DAY!

IF YOU SUSTAINED AN INJURY, I'D CALL TIM RIGGINS AND HE'D CARRY YOU TO THE HOSPITAL.

I'M SORRY IF YOU'RE NOT SMILING CUZ THIS WORLD HAS YOU DOWN. IF YOU'RE JUST THINKING, SORRY FOR THE INTERRUPTION!

HERMIONE IS OBVIOUSLY MY FAVORITE CHARACTER. WHAT ABOUT YOU????

WHO ARE YOUR FAVE FEMINIST THINKERS? I'M TRYING TO EDUCATE MYSELF!

catcalls_tim-2

WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE BRAND OF WHISKY? IF YOU DON'T WANT TO ANSWER, I UNDERSTAND.

IF YOU WANT TO BE A RAPPER OR A COMIC OR A GAMER, I SUPPORT THAT AND WON'T THREATEN YOU WITH DEATH AND/OR RAPE!

YOU WILL BE A WONDERFUL CAREERPERSON AND PARENT, IF THAT'S WHAT YOU WANT.

I BET YOU LOVE YOUR JOB.

YOU CAN HAVE THIS BAG OF CAPPUCINO LAYS POTATO CHIPS AS I THINK THEY ARE DISGUSTING. BEST OF LUCK.

catcalls_fire

I DON'T THINK VAMPIRE DIARIES IS STUPID. IT'S ACTUALLY REALLY SMART WRITING.

IT'S WEIRD HOW HATEFUL EVERYONE IS TOWARD KIM KARDASHIAN, DON'T YOU THINK???

ARE YOU AT ALL INTERESTED IN HEARING ABOUT MY FAVORITE UNDERRATED FEMALE HORROR WRITER??

EXCUSE ME, MS, CARE TO SIGN MY PETITION TO GET ALZHEIMERS-CAUSING INGREDIENTS TAKEN OUT OF WOMEN'S DEODORANT?

Emily Henry is a young, adult writer who is a young-adult writer, and she's wearing the same thing as last time you saw her. Her debut novel, THE LOVE THAT SPLIT THE WORLD, will be available in 2016 from Razorbill/Penguin. She also tweets.

Illustrations by Hallie Bateman.

9 Comments
09 Mar 16:00

A Place Where Everybody Knows Your Name

by Hannah Giorgis
by Hannah Giorgis

honey
When I filled out a 30-day tourist visa upon arrival in Ethiopia, the country from which my parents emigrated over 30 years ago, the man behind the immigration counter smiled as he called me Hannah. Not miss or ma’am and especially not Hannah, the limp Western approximation of my name that seems to exist more as prefix to Montana (or in earlier years, Banana) than as its own entity. I heard my name on this stranger’s lips and felt like I belonged, though the irony was not lost on me as I watched my foreign status codified by the visa stamp in his hand. It had been almost 10 years since I’d last visited, but he said my name like I’d never left.

My name is as much an impostor in America as I am. At first glance, it might fool you into thinking it is not out of place here. If you do not hold it in your mouth with the reverence it deserves it will shrink quietly into the Western mold you force it to inhabit. It will sneak past some of your defenses, mask both foreignness and blackness, in its attempt to make itself inviting. “Hannah Giorgis” is as ambivalent about its citizenship as the woman who writes it on both US passport application and Ethiopian Airlines passenger information forms, hoping to make sense of it in the margins between the two.

In Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia and the first language I learned, there is only one way to pronounce my name. The Amharic alphabet is entirely phonetic, composed of letters that correspond to unequivocal syllables rather than circumstantial sounds. In Amharic, my name does not skip out of people’s mouths with reckless abandon. Unyielding hah, solid nah. It can be sweet, but first it is strong. It is not a song. To make my name into a lullaby, you must know me.

Hanni. Hard a, strong n’s, soft i. Short. Lyrical. Familiar. Sweet, like honey. Sweet, like “honey” (the word the untrained ear hears).

Hanniye. Hard a, strong n’s, soft i, warm “ye.” “Ye” which means “mine.” “Ye” which says, “you belong here, you are desired, you are beloved.”

My great aunt calls me Mariye, a derivative of mar, the Amharic word for honey. I am her sweet, she says. Having grown up largely in Southern California, I toss the word around in my head and recall the Spanish word for “sea”—mar. “Mariye” then holds two meanings in my diasporic dictionary: my honey, my sea (the latter accidental but applicable all the same). How appropriate for the niece who loves most often from across the Atlantic, whose sweetness is diluted by both ocean and radio waves.

When my father first immigrated to the US, Social Security wasn’t sure what to make of his name. “Mesmak Teklegiorgis” is a berbere-spiced mouthful, I guess, so they diced it into portions easier to wrap their unseasoned tongues around. Mesmak could stay (“maybe you should ask people to call you Mark instead though”), but Tekle became his middle name and Giorgis his last. “Mesmak” means shelter in Ge’ez, the ancient Semitic language from which Ethiopia’s Amharic takes its roots. The language is now used almost exclusively in Ethiopian/Eritrean Orthodox and Catholic churches. To have a name in Ge’ez is to be associated explicitly with the clergy, to be anointed by God. My father’s name is a holy shelter that crossed the Atlantic and stayed intact through its splintering.

The ambivalence of my father’s broken name takes on new meaning on my American birth certificate. People often ask if it is Greek, Arabic, or (perhaps most uncomfortably) Italian. So I laugh demurely and default to my standard script. “No, it’s Ethiopian. Super duper African, just like me.”

Growing up as an immigrant kid in a country defined by rigid boundaries and strict binaries, I learned to smooth out my name for people. Not correcting classmates or teachers when they pronounced it incorrectly became my white flag of choice, the slow surrender I rarely second-guessed. Outside our home, my parents called me the American version of my name. It was proof that my parents’ journey was worth it, a sign that we could assimilate into American-ness without raising our voices.

But still I longed for a more tangible connection to the country my parents left; I wanted to hear the weight of Ethiopia invoked every time someone said my name. “Hannah” demanded that I actively correct American mispronunciations if I were to have any hope of hearing my heritage spoken back to me. Soft-spoken and scared to ruffle feathers, I wanted a name that spoke of Ethiopia without having to yell—to be Selam or Nazaret or Maaza. I wanted to feel closer to home.

Names are among the first gifts bestowed upon us, ones we often keep with us well past our time on Earth. They can map entire histories, trace lineages, and resist borders. They are powerful and contentious, holding more than we know.

In the northern Ethiopian town of Lalibela, 11 churches were cut from one block of stone each during the 12th and 13th centuries. They are monolithic fortresses, towering and impressive. Each church was carved by hand not from the base of the rock but from the top; there are passageways connecting the churches, gutters to drain the heavy rains that the region experiences during summer months, and a whole host of other functional intricacies. The sight is so spectacular it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, and, like the Pyramids of Giza, often subjected to rumors of “alien” creation (because advanced African architecture is apparently more implausible than extraterrestrial construction). The name Lalibela, which comes from that of the king under whose reign many of the churches were carved, is not an Amharic name. Lalibela, like my father’s first name, is Ge’ez. The closest Amharic translation is mar ye bela—“he eats honey.”

The most famous of the 11 churches is a mammoth structure. It is foreboding and beautiful, the image most commonly associated with the town itself. Connected to the others not by proximity on land but by a series of trenches, it has its own majestic presence. The church, Bete Giyorgis, is stunning. Its name, pronounced the same as my own, means “House of St. George.” When I saw it this January, it took my breath away. By the time I’d regained the ability to speak, my name sounded different coming out of my lips, part of something much grander than my own lineage.

My name is a shape-shifter. It traces my roots across an ocean floor and back even when my body can’t make the journey. I carry it with me and know I am not stranded. It connects me to the country I feel in my chest every time I take a deep breath—Ethiopia is the only place where my name sounds like “welcome home.”

Hannah Giorgis is a writer and organizer based in New York. She likes bad TV, even worse puns, and daydreaming about her future with Andre 3000. You can follow her on Twitter @ethiopienne.

1 Comments
04 Mar 20:00

My Father, the Philosopher

by Emily Adler
by Emily Adler

2139509450_d55b0b0691_zIf the bed was here, if I touched it, lay down in it, walked away and came back, then it existed.

If it existed, then when I left for school and came back, it would still be there. If it was there today, then it would be there tomorrow. Right, Dad?

I touched the objects in the house. The bed and the Mickey Mouse light switch and the crumbling flower wallpaper. The Garbage Pail stickers. What about the office up in the attic? The porch? The sidewalk? I dashed over the slats, avoided the cracks.

My father smiled, pleased. “Well how can you know for sure? It's just like Descartes’s bad dream. What proves we’re not all living in a dream?”

Descartes's bad dream. What a lie. I bet Descartes loved his dream.

“Think about your first premise.”

“My first what?”

“Your first premise. Does it follow? If x, then p. Does touching something mean it exists? Are the conditions necessary and sufficient?”

* * *

If your father is a philosopher, then you should expect to lose many arguments. You will never lose “because life isn’t fair,” or because your dad “says so.” You will always lose on strict logical grounds.

For my friends and me, the best seats in my family’s station wagon were in the way-back. Sitting in the way-back, no parents could see us in the rearview mirror. When driving with friends, the absolute worst seat was in the front next to my dad. If I had to sit up there, then it was totally not OK for my friends to get the way-back.

But Adrianne and Christy widened their eyes when they asked him. "Can we sit in the way-back?"


I hated those faces. I knew what happened in the way-back. All the way at the other end of the station wagon, you make faces that are So Funny. You tell stories no one else is allowed to hear. By the time the car has stopped and you've piled out through the hatch, you two in the way-back are best friends and can forget about your friend who got stuck sitting in the way-front.

"Of course," my father said when they asked.

"NO Way!" I said. "That’s not fair. I can't sit back there, so they can't either."

"Who's going to sit back there if they don't?" my father asked.

"Nobody."

"And where are you going to sit no matter where they sit?"

"In the front."

"So how is it not fair? The improvement of their situation in no one way worsens your situation. It is fair."

But my situation would be worsened. By the time we all got out of the car, I would be a blip in their collective, best friend memory.

"NO, IT'S NOT FAIR!"

"Adrianne. Christy. Get in the way-back. We're leaving."

And so I learned utilitarianism. The greatest good for the greatest number. The way-back for some, not for all.

* * *

My father's philosopher friend Paul came over. He had a deep scratchy voice. He paced the room with both hands on his back and his belly pushed forward. A pose of intellectual authority. My father said Paul was “philosopher famous.”

Paul had a thought puzzle for me: A train with six people on board is hurtling toward imminent collision with a brick wall up ahead.

I was at the coffee table doing my homework. I looked up at Paul.

The train was gaining momentum, moving faster. It rocked back and forth along the tracks, becoming progressively more unbalanced.

Paul told me I was on the track, watching the train filled with six stricken faces as it gathered speed. I turned and looked at the brick wall just ahead, then back at the train. Collision was imminent. The six people were helpless.

“Can they jump out? Run for their lives? Save themselves?” I asked Paul.

No, he explained. They will surely die.

I looked down and saw a lever. By pulling up on the lever, the tracks will switch left. The train will be diverted onto another path, and all will be saved.

But, wait! It’s not so simple, Paul growled. Or was he smiling? You look over at the diverting track just as you are about to pull the lever. A lone man is lying along the tracks, unable to move. He cannot be alerted about what is to come, nor dragged away from the rail lines. There is no 911, no hero lurking in a maintenance closet, no third option.

I knew there was no third option without Paul reminding me. There is never a third option in thought experiments.

Do I: A) pull the lever and divert the train, thereby saving the six people’s lives but directly causing the death of one man?; or B) do nothing? Let the six people die but bear no responsibility for any individual death.

I looked up at Paul hesitantly. “Pull the lever.”

Paul paused. “OK.”

OK? OK! I was right? My answer wasn’t wrong? The people would be saved! Only one regrettable casualty to mourn. He shouldn’t have been lying on the tracks anyway.

Except Paul wasn’t finished. “Now imagine there’s no one on the other track, and no lever at all. There is a fat man on roller skates just about to pass in front of you beside the train tracks. If you push him onto the tracks, his body will break the train’s path. He will surely die from the impact and the six people on the train will surely be saved. What then?”

I could see him. I could see the fat man skating along in his hefty ignorance. He had not fallen on any track. He had not accidentally, conveniently, gotten in the way. The fat man’s face and wide neck were coming closer into view. Time was running out. And I was supposed to do it. I was supposed to push the fat man.

But surely that can’t be. Surely, it would be wrong to push a man to his death.

“Let the fat man pass?” I said. “Let the people on the train die?”

Paul and my father were quiet. We sat in the living room, just me, two philosophers and my inconsistent logic.

"Hmm…” Paul said. “That is what most people say.”

What most people say. The worst kind of wrong answer. I should have pushed the fat man.

* * *

If your father is a philosopher, your premises must support your conclusion. Then, maybe once or twice in a childhood filled with lost arguments, you will win. When you win, you win big.

In middle school, years later, I asked my father to buy me a computer. Concerned about family resources, he pointed out that if he bought me a computer, he would be obligated to buy my younger brother a computer.

I organized my premises. If I got a computer, then it in no way worsened my brother's situation. He would be computer-less all the same.

He smiled and shook his head with feigned disapproval. He would never dispute a well-reasoned argument.

* * *

It is very cool to tell people your father is a philosopher. They think it is neat. Unusual. Intellectual. They already think you are just a little bit smarter than before you mentioned your father.

They want to ask you about your father's work. They think he's interested in big, worldly questions. The kinds of questions they’ve been thinking about for a while. The kinds of questions they have come to some really deep conclusions about. But he is not. The questions that they want the answers to, that they have the answers to—God, life after death, the Meaning of It All—those questions are uninteresting. The answers are all No, or (worse?) Don’t Assume the Conclusion.

Philosophy is not like learning the Vedas or the Tao of Pooh. It does not care for your big questions. It is not cool or hip. It does not think your Buddhist bracelet is interesting.

Philosophy is strict, serious, scientific. It is logical. It is like math. Please, when you meet my father, do not try to talk to him about philosophy. Yes, of course, he loves to talk philosophy. But you will want to talk to him about Foucault or sociology or you will not understand the nuance in Kant's argument and I will have to change the subject. You will not realize that the argument hinges on a sentence that you did not underline.

Yes, yes. You’re correct. My father is a very nice man. No, you wouldn’t really mistake him for the kind of judgmental, exacting figure I’m describing. He would humor you, maybe even like you very much. He would invite you in. He would want to buy you lunch.

But you would miss the point. You are missing the point. I can’t listen to the fawning way you’ll ask him questions about his work. I can’t listen to the smack of your lips as you tell him with borrowed authority how interested you’ve gotten in psychoanalytic theory. I can’t listen to all the likes that will punctuate your sentences, because no one ever asked you, “If it’s ‘like’ something, what’s it like?”

You will be surprised because my father is unlike what you think a philosopher is like. He does not have a beard or a gravelly voice. He is glad to talk about the $5 Chinese lunch buffet. He does not seem like a man who thinks you don’t believe in God, even if you say you do. But that is because he is not listening to you like that: like a philosopher, like a teacher, like a father. I am.

* * *

Truth was of utmost importance to my father. Truth was a social contract.

I forged my report card in high school. It was the first quarter of 9th grade and I’d gotten my first C. But when I forged the first report card, I forgot that each quarter report card that followed would include the grades from the previous quarter. So then I had to print out a B+ again the next quarter to paste on top of the original C, and as long as I was doing that I better replace each new C or C- or C+ as well. By the fourth quarter, I arrived at the photocopy place with my print-out of tiny little letters and my scissors and I was exhausted.

I did not know much about forgery and while there might be more complicated iterations, I had chosen a fairly straightforward approach. I cut out letters from a printed piece of paper and pasted them into the tiny grade spot on the report card grid. Then I photocopied the entire paper, and when my father asked why report cards were being printed on such flimsy paper this year, I shrugged.

I was not much for arts and crafts and my method of forgery required a dexterity I did not have. Some of the letters were pasted on crooked, and some of the lines from the original report card grid were obscured by the pasted on paper.

Plus, the minus sign on the fake B- looked different than the minus sign on one of the real B-s. I stared at the paper and at the various letters I might cut out to try again, and knew I wasn’t going to do it. I was either going to sit on the steps in front of the photocopy place for the rest of my life or I was going to go home and confess.

If doing poorly in school had seemed like an affront to my father already (I’d made sure that my fake grades still reflected my progressive academic deterioration, since I didn’t want any surprises when three years later I didn’t get into any good colleges), revelation of my complicated deception shook my father to his very parental core. He took a few minutes to wrap his mind around what I had done. In the interim, I apologized, I told him how terribly guilty I felt. He cut me off. My confession had been a product of laziness, not regret. The only thing worse than the lie was lying about the lie, and the lie itself was already terrible.

Then for three days he didn’t speak to me.

When he did start speaking to me again, it was because he had little choice. I was still his daughter. 
He was appalled that he had to punish me, but since he couldn’t trust that I would be in any way moved by his disgust, he also had to do things like ground me and restrict my phone privileges. Enforce punishment. The menial labor of parenting. It was embarrassing.

Then he slowly got over it. Because he had to. Because I was his daughter. I had annihilated his trust in me. And it didn’t matter. He still had to take me back.

I had forced him into a bind between what was right — leaving me to rot in the ethical cesspool I’d dove into head first — and what was necessary: raising me and clothing me and sheltering and caring about me.

A year after the report card fiasco, my father published an article called “Lying, Deceiving or Falsely Implicating.” He considered whether there is a justified moral distinction between lying and deception. He was so worried about lying, that he was also worried about deception masquerading as not-lying.

Deceiving suggests a moral effort. The desire to avoid lying. Effort may actually make the deceiver worse. “It encourages deviousness and a legalistic attempt to get away with what one can,” he wrote. The very act of trying to evade the moral responsibility of lying, of stepping up and committing the outright immoral act of lying—may make one even more immoral.

In the case of my report card then, there was no question that I had outright lied. But maybe this meant on the ladder of terrible people, I was still one rung up from those who deceived. A victory.

If your father is a philosopher then you should expect to see some version of your at-home altercations elevated to a moral academic question. If your father is a philosopher, this should not be misconstrued as a “coping mechanism.”

* * *

At my father’s surprise 60th birthday party, my mother asked me to give a toast. I was older now, 25. And I should have been poised and articulate. There was plenty to say. This is my father. He is a loving parent, a great friend, an honest man. A hiking enthusiast. A willing giver of rides to the airport. Generous with money. Unmaterialistic, though not militantly so.

He walked into the restaurant where everyone had gathered, and he was surprised. He kept putting his hand to his forehead and saying, “I just can’t believe this.” So many old and new friends everywhere he looked. Some I knew, some I barely recognized, some I’d never met.

He was recovering from pinkeye and his eyes were red-rimmed. He was not well but so happy.

When it came time for the toasts, he stood against a pipe that ran from the tin ceiling to the floor of the restaurant, waiting, palming his cheek, saying “Oh, boy.”

I meant to make a few jokes, nods in his direction, warm smiles. “Look how happy he is to have you all here,” I might begin. “His eyes are full of infection, and joy. No artifice about him at all.

I guess you’re pretty impressed that he decided to become a volunteer EMT at the age of 50 out of a sense of civic duty. Also, when I was in middle school, he brought me my forgotten lunch bag at least twice a week. He does a lot of favors and he never holds them against people.

My father is a brave man. He is not scared of most logical conclusions. If a fat man on roller skates could save a train full of people, a bus full of people, a burning building full of people, he would surely kill the fat man.

Still, though, I cannot finish my last 10 minutes on a treadmill without worrying about Zeno’s paradox and the line that can be cut infinitely in half and so never really ends. I watch the treadmill reader count down. Every 10 seconds seems endless. I sweat and pant and become very concerned that in this instance my 10 minutes will go on forever, always getting shorter and shorter and yet never really ending.

My father wears corduroy jackets with arm pads to school. He hates when people say "I feel like" when they mean "I think that." He is terribly impressed with people of elite pedigree. He speaks admiringly of your children attending highly-ranked graduate programs in math and science.

He loves Jim Carrey and not in an ironic way. He drops his ‘R’s at the end of words ending in R and he adds ‘R’s to words ending in vowels. He buys non-fat half ‘n’ half. When, after hosting a dinner party, you, his culturally well-rounded friends request regular coffee, he ignores you and makes decaf.

Every single thing I hold against him—making sure I knew I was in the lowest reading group, not the highest; telling me I could get a hamster only if I wrote an essay on the hamster species first; giving me math problems to solve on Saturday morning was done to make me be better and smarter and nicer.

And you all know it too. You too are in awe of my father. How could someone be so devastatingly exacting and kind?

You too are thinking, it is baffling. It is infuriating. It is illogical.”

I did not say any of it, of course. That would be a terrible speech.

I got preliminary stage fright and didn’t prepare. I’d given a toast once before and it had not gone well. Instead, I spoke for under a minute. I tried to make one joke but I mumbled and didn’t make enough eye contact with the audience.

Then I stepped to the side and filmed everyone else’s toast. Everyone else was very funny. My father laughed and clapped.

Throughout the rest of the party, I acted as a reliable demi-host. At the end of the night, I helped load all the presents in the car. I hoped this made up for my crappy toast, for all the other ways I’d never even tried to rise above my worst inclinations. But I didn’t need my father to tell me that trying to “make it up” was a soft phrase, that hoping things can “make up” for other, dissimilar things, is a conflation.

* * *

Later, I learned I was wrong about the station wagon incident and where all the girls were allowed to sit. It wasn’t the way-back seat that I wanted. It wasn’t a seat I wanted at all.

My father tells me Adrianne wanted the seat up front next to him. I didn’t want her to have it. But I was already in my seat in the regular back, the bench seat. If Adrianne got to sit in the front seat that in no way worsened my position. Also, the front seat was the only seat left.

The “only seat left”? Impossible! It wasn’t my birthday. I don’t remember five girls crowded into the car —- three across the bench and two in the way, way-back and only one lone seat left at the front that I didn’t have the generosity to concede to Adrianne. Did I want her to be left behind in the driveway? Better she watch the car disappearing up the block than acquire the coveted (it was coveted?) seat next to my father? Adrianne didn’t even have a dad. And I wouldn’t let her sit next to mine?

No, I was not so sadistic a child.

I ought to give this one to my father. To have said, you’re right. You’re older. You must remember better. I was a child. But no, I’m younger. I remember better. It mattered so much more to me then who sat where.

I think I’m right, of course. There were three girls. And all I wanted was to be with them. My father’s version offers one kind of metaphor and mine another. Truth is not a metaphor, of course (big box Metaphor, small box Truth). Truth is. But metaphor may be a kind of truth (big box Truth, small box Metaphor). One kind. Not the best kind.

I choose my version anyway. I know what it felt like, what it was like like. I know when two competing arguments are, in a rare instance, equally matched.

* * *

I stayed by my father in his hospice bed for a while after his big nostrils had taken in their last sips of air. I thought about Zeno’s line that goes on forever in half-broken slices, until it doesn’t. I thought about the difference between the number zero and every single other number, which seemed like a related conundrum, even if my father would have told me no, it’s not. They’re completely different sets of problems.

Zero.

Everything you multiply zero by equals zero. No number can be divided by any other number to arrive at zero. There’s this big gaping chasm between zero and one. It’s not even a chasm. It’s a different planet. A different solar system. A black hole. Zero spinning alone in its own self-contained impossibility.

My father got sicker and sicker for two years. His body got smaller, his speech got more halting. He slept a lot. But still he was greater than zero.

I didn’t realize how much closer .00000001 really is to 10,000, a million, 10,000 trillion. These numbers have 99% more in common than .00000001 and zero. Zero is like nothing else. Zero can’t even really be contemplated. You can’t point to zero objects. You can’t touch them. You can’t make a joke that zero laughs at. You can’t pull the blanket up to make sure zero isn’t cold, or bring zero a milkshake because the fat is good for zero.

I put my head on my father’s chest and left it there for a bit.

I went upstairs and laid down in my childhood bed, not wanting to see the people from the funeral home when they arrived to take my father. And then, when I did come back downstairs, the bed was empty. And that was that. Zero.

It was a number that defied logic. And yes, Dad, I know. I’m probably using the word “logic” incorrectly.

Emily Adler is a New York-based writer and editor. You can follow her @EmilyAnnAdler.

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05 Mar 14:30

Punk band comprised of members with Down syndrome makes it into Eurovision semi-finals

by Maggie Serota

Last month we told you about PKN (Pertti Kurikan Nimipaivat), the punk band who was completing with 17 other bands in order to represent Finland in the semi-finals of the wildly popular (in Europe) Eurovision Song Contest. The band members, who all have Down syndrome (and a few also have autism), use music to raise awareness about Down syndrome and mental disabilities as a whole. PKN were hoping to bring even more awareness to their cause via the massive exposure their entry into the Eurovision contest would provide.

Well, guess what? The band beat out the competition and will be representing Finland in the semi-finals, which is set to take place on May 19 and 21. The finale is scheduled for May 23.

In addition to being the first band with members with Down syndrome to compete in the contest, PKN is also making history by being the first punk band to grace the Eurovision stage.

“Every person with a disability ought to be braver,” singer Kari Aalto told Finnish broadcaster YLE. “He or she should themselves say what they want and do not want.”

Given how far the band has already come in their pioneering campaign for Eurovision victory, the members of PKN have plenty of bravery to spare.

Here is the qualifying performance of the song “Aina mun pitää” from Saturday night, via Consequence of Sound. The song translates to “I Have To” and is about struggling with the mundanities and chores of every day living.

“We don’t want people to vote for us to feel sorry for us, we are not that different from everybody else — just normal guys with a mental handicap,” bassist Sam Helle told The Guardian.

BBC News reported that at 5:1 odds, the band is the third favorite to take home the top honors, placing PKN behind Italy and Estonia’s entrants. However, not all the countries’ entrants have been selected yet. Plus, a win would be a major coup for Finland, since the country frequently finishes last place and hasn’t won since 2006’s bizarre heavy metal entry Lordi, in which the band performed dressed up like monsters.

Still, even if PKN doesn’t win the contest, what the members have accomplished is already remarkable as far as raising awareness to their cause is concerned.

“We are rebelling against society in different ways, but we are not political,” Helle told The Guardian. “We are changing attitudes somewhat, a lot of people are coming to our gigs and we have a lot of fans.”

If you can’t tune in to Europe’s grand Olympics of pop music, it’s not a bad idea to check out the award-winning 2012 documentary on PKN titled “The Punk Syndrome.

[h/t Consequence of Sound]

05 Mar 12:18

20 Creative Drawings Completed Using Everyday Objects By Christoph Niemann

by Dovas

Christoph Niemann is an artist who’s bursting at the seams with creativity. When he’s not drawing clever and insightful cartoons for the New York Times and other prestigious publications, he creates clever illustrations for fun, using everyday objects to enrich and complete his daily creations.

Niemann calls the drawings his “Sunday Sketches” and fits them in between his more serious illustrations, which include both political cartoons and column illustrations for the Times Magazine and the New Yorker.

We’re big fans of using everyday objects to create drawings because it’s such a fun and inclusive art form! Javier Perez and Gilbert Legrand are just two of the many artists we’ve covered who love this artform!

If you like Niemann’s work, check out his books on Amazon as well!

More info: christophniemann.com | Facebook | AmazonTumblr | Twitter | Instagram (h/t: demilkedtwistedsifter)

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Christopher Niemann has released numerous books with his work, which can be found on Amazon

04 Mar 16:42

Email From Work Makes You Angry: Study

by Alex Balk

“Employees who receive work-related emails and texts after hours become angry more often than not, which can interfere with their personal lives,” finds a survey from the College of Business at the University of Texas at Arlington.“People who were part of the study reported they became angry when they received a work email or text after they had gone home and that communication was negatively worded or required a lot of the person’s time. Also, the people who tried to separate work from their personal life experienced more work-life interference. The after-hours emails really affected those workers’ personal lives,” notes the study’s author. A follow-up to the survey is expected to determine whether those who actually welcome off-hours emails and texts from work are either desperate to distract themselves from the horror of their own personal lives or so profoundly afraid of their own cosmic insignificance that they need to convince themselves that the work in which they find themselves employed in has some actual value and that they are a vital component to it.

03 Mar 07:30

Pavegen Takes Steps to Advance ‘Green Floors’ in French Transport Hubs

by Peter Campobasso

Pavegen St. Omer

 

London-based green tech company Pavegen recently announced a new partnership with SNCF to install its energy-producing floor tiles in SNCF’s Innovation and Research Office in Paris. Producing floor tiles capable of converting the kinetic energy of human footsteps into renewable energy, their installation in this corridor will power all of the LED strip lighting in the hallway, as well as an interactive interface allowing users to see the their impact and energy production.

This announcement may seem small, but it comes from a young company with a very intriguing technology. The floor tiles are mostly meant to reduce energy consumption, but they can be a particularly “innovative lighting solution in urban environments where wind and solar are ineffective,” but where there is much human foot traffic. For example, the tiles were installed beneath the surface of a soccer field in a poorer neighborhood of Rio De Janeiro, where in conjunction with solar panels, produced enough energy to power batteries that provided a neighborhood with 10 hours of lighting.

Pavegen has other impressive projects too. It has projects in London Heathrow, and is already working with SNCF. 14 tiles were installed outside St. Omer train station, and are used to power USB charging ports as well as outside lighting underneath benches. It has partnered with companies such as GDF Suez as well.

What I find most impressive about Pavegen is its vision. According to Pavegen CEO Laurence Kemball-Cook, Pavegen seeks to be “the main energy source for lighting in rail stations [across France]” by “installing our technology across every train station in France.” They see their technology being useful in not only lighting, but also phone charging ports, as well as powering ticket machines in rail stations. I like the audacity to think big.

While Pavegen has no official timeline for implementing these goals, they will be a company to keep an eye on this year. They have “new up-coming installations with well-established clients” which are still to be seen, and fund raised over $1 million by the end of last year.

I am a fan of this technology and of this company. As I said earlier, I like that it’s going after all of the train stations in France, a massive undertaking, with a very interesting technology that really couldn’t possibly pose much resistance. Who could honestly be bothered by the floor they’re stepping on? It is a great solution to reducing energy consumption from traditional sources, and reducing costs as well. With their interest in transit services, I personally think it would be really compelling to see what a partnership with a train manufacturer would look like to power the lighting inside the trains. This is especially because of how much power is needed for a train in the first place. For now, Pavegen has some exciting growth to watch over the next year. I’m interested to see what 2015 will look like for them, and the floors they will affect.

"Pavegen Takes Steps to Advance ‘Green Floors’ in French Transport Hubs" by Peter Campobasso originally appeared on Rude Baguette

25 Feb 17:00

Other People's Babies

by Laura June

One afternoon late last summer, when Zelda was seven months old, we were on a long walk in our Brooklyn neighborhood. It was about the time when we usually ventured home to play in her room for a while before having dinner in the kitchen. But there was a breeze coming off the river and I didn’t feel like going home just yet. The sun was not too hot, and there was a beautiful light shimmering over Greenpoint. Our courage was up. The restaurant at the end of our street had tables out on the sidewalk, and just one was occupied. “Let’s have dinner here, Zelda,” I said, locking the foot brake on her stroller. We sat down and lazily gazed at the menu while we waited for the high chair. I looked over at the only other patron: a woman, about my age, sitting alone, reading The New Yorker. Her hair looked freshly cut and styled. “Oh fuck, she’s reading The New Yorker,” I thought to myself, laughing. Just a woman alone at a sidewalk cafe reading a magazine. How luxurious. How common.

As I wrestled Zelda into her high chair, she started yelling. Not an angry yell, but one that was designed to get another’s attention. With her strapped in, I sat back down and looked at her. She was smiling and calling to the woman reading alone. The woman was wearing sunglasses and so was I, but still, I thought I detected a hint of annoyance. Everything in that moment was laden with meaning for me: I felt judged because my baby was being annoying and loud. I looked at Zelda’s little sundress and noticed that it had pink stains—from strawberries—down the front of it. I looked down at myself and saw that my jeans had a mysterious faint crust on the thighs from some forgotten moment of exasperation earlier when I’d simply “woosh,” rubbed my hands down my legs as a form of cleaning or drying or Jesus, I don’t know. Zelda yelled again. A happy yell. She waved frantically, waiting for a nod or a hint of recognition. She wasn’t used to being ignored. We’d sat several tables away from the lone reader on purpose just to avoid this exact scenario. “Zelda,” I said, “the lady is reading. Talk to me instead,” I said to her, trying to strike a tonal balance of level-headedness and also scoffing “babies are so dumb”-ness. The lone reader sipped her glass of wine. Zelda’s imploring got louder.

“This is a shitshow,” I thought to myself, my confidence deflating in one moment. “This woman alone, she hates me and she hates my baby for ruining her quiet Tuesday afternoon. And I hate us too. We’re annoying and gross and terrible.” I didn’t believe any of this but I felt it, completely.

I felt it as I heard a wailing baby from far off, a baby that wasn’t mine, as I ordered my own glass of wine. “Wow, loud baby,” I thought to myself as my own darling nightmare leaned over in her high chair to lick the table. I felt it still, moments later, as I saw a man in his thirties pushing an expensive, gigantic stroller down Kent Street, the wailing baby identified. “Poor guy,” I thought, “his baby is worse off than mine.” Zelda was still trying to lick the table. And I felt the feeling, still, though it began to thaw and melt away, as the woman alone reading her New Yorker removed her sunglasses and put them on the table, chugged the last of her wine, and stood up. I saw a stain on the thigh of her skinny jeans as the napkin dropped from her lap to the dirty sidewalk. She turned to the man in the stroller, who was now within earshot, baby still screaming bloody murder. “I guess he’s not going to sleep,” she said to him as he engaged the foot brake. “We should go then,” she said, glancing at me and my now silent baby.

“How old is he?” I asked, sipping my glass of wine. “Nine weeks tomorrow,” she said, smiling weakly. “How old is she?” She gestured to Zelda, who waved, smiling a drooly smile. “Just passed seven months” I smiled back. Little old nine-weeks was still wailing, dad desperately attempting to jam a pacifier into its mouth over and over. “Does it get easier?” he asked, looking up at me for the first time.

“Oh, we have our days,” I said.

“This seems like one of the good ones,” mom said, jamming her New Yorker into the stroller. “I guess so,” I said, shrugging and smiling at my baby.

Before I had a baby, I disliked them intensely. I could get along with toddlers and children; we had things in common, like getting food on the front of our clothes during meals and barking back at the dog when she barks at us. Babies seemed annoying and loud and unmanageable.

I spent a lot of time in high school babysitting. I enjoyed it, but as I fumbled towards adulthood, babies became an aberration in my life. My only experience with them, for a very long time, was seeing them throw food onto the floors of the various restaurants that I worked in. Or hearing them scream on airplanes. One of the first times I travelled long distance with my husband, I remember how shocked he was when I craned my neck around, looking frantically for the source of the screaming. “Who brings a baby on a seven hour flight?” I screeched. “I hope someone died, at least.” The sound of a baby, wailing uncontrollably, was worse than any sound imaginable, to me just then. “It’s not the baby I’m upset about, it can’t help it. It’s the parents I’m angry with!” The parents, I reasoned, were putting this baby — who obviously belonged at HOME — into situations where both it and I were unhappy. Shame on them.

If there is such a thing as eating one’s words, allow me to feast on them now, barely chewing, gulping them down with a giant glass of pinot noir, since I now have a one year old baby. As soon as the ground thawed and we began to explore, around the time the baby was just a few months old, I decided to “take her out.” In practice, this meant to stores and to restaurants. At first, it was a nightmare: her in her stroller, me choking down a salad at the neighborhood bistro, nervous on behalf of the other patrons, since she could and would lose it at any moment. But there’s nothing a parent learns to ignore faster than the sound of a baby screaming, and I acknowledge this with some sense of the irony involved.

I learned some tricks. I learned to love noisy restaurants, because they hid the sounds of her loud, boisterous speaking voice. And once she was old enough to sit in a high chair, I only went to restaurants with high chairs. I had a list of them in my mind, and some of my formerly favorite haunts became absolutely off-limits. I went on off-peak hours—if the place opened at 10 for brunch, we’d be there waiting, the first people in the door. Dinner at 5PM? We’re there. We went to the same places over and over, getting to know the staff, so that they (we imagined) welcomed us. I tried to take her out when she’d just woken up—she was happier then, and hungry.

She loves going out to eat. And she makes friends at nearly any establishment we go to. But I have no illusions about her manners. Now that she is fully onboard with eating solid food, she is quite messy. The floor beneath her high chair after a meal is a bloodbath, and she hasn’t mastered the art of not pitching her bottle, or sippy cup, or bib, onto the floor whenever she has finished with it. At first, I spent a lot of time at the ends of meals on my hands and knees, wiping up piles of discarded food from the floors. Eventually, enough busboys and servers and restaurant managers discouraged me that I simply stopped trying. Now, at the end of a meal, after paying, I simply say to the server, “sorry about the mess! Her manners are a little lacking!” and hope that tipping thirty-five percent or more makes up for our daughter’s obvious faults.

I am fairly certain it does. As does being simply apologetic for it. As does not tolerating a full on outburst in a public, controlled setting. Which we don’t: once or twice, Zelda has decided that she is just not in the mood for brunch. Fair enough: off we go, out the door. I’ve left my husband several times to finish his food alone and pick up the check. I know my daughter’s limits, and I know the limits of what I, in my former, babyless days, would find tolerable. I can tell when the cute has worn off.

That’s not to say she isn’t annoying. And here is where I’ll eat my words: She is annoying. She is loud and messy and gross. She is a baby, and lacks any semblance of real-world human skills. I accept this as a harsh reality, spending, as I do, twenty-four hours a day in her company. I don’t treasure her running the butter-soaked palm of her hand down the side of my face, and shirt, and crotch, any more than anyone else would. I try to be realistic about her aptitude for the outside world, and it’s a pretty low bar some days.

As Zelda and I walked home that day, I had a stunning though obvious realization: we were all babies once. I didn’t spring into life, fully grown, an Athena in our midst. I once was an awful member of society. I once groped my mother in public and yelled for strangers’ attentions. I once hated other people’s babies, and, truth be told, I can still get a little judgy at the sight of a particularly awful baby specimen. But, now that I’m a parent of an actual, tiny, barbaric human, I see that it’s my duty to take her out, daily, into society, in order to cull her of her worst impulses. To teach her that sometimes the people sitting just one airplane seat over don’t want to talk, or that the lady reading her New Yorker five feet away isn’t her best friend. This is the social contract: we must raise our young to be human people with manners and dignity. And you, the adult humans of the world, must tolerate us while we embark on our excursion.

I apologize in advance: you are part of the journey. I promise, she will be better for it. Thank you for your patience.

Photo by Daliophoto


The Parent Rap is an endearing column about the fucked up and cruel world of parenting

19 Feb 21:00

The 2015 Cool Cat Name Contest

by Hallie Bateman

18 Feb 16:19

This 1956 Kitchen Hasn’t Been Touched For 50 Years

by Dovas

In a strange and unexpected discovery, furniture designer and creator Nathan Chandler found and bought a home that had remained sealed since 1956, keeping its mid-century American interior perfectly intact. Though the house has recently been sold, the retro interior design of this kitchen provided us with a look at a time long gone.

It’s not clear why the original owners of the home kept it sealed for so long, but we’re glad they did, because the interior décor elements are absolutely perfect. From the pastel pink counters to the manuals still attached to the unused GE home appliances, every detail is straight out of a 1950s American family sitcom.

The fate of this period kitchen is uncertain, but we’re glad to have had a look into such a strangely-preserved historic space!

More info: Flickr (h/t: retrorenovation, demilked)

The first thing you’ll notice is that this kitchen has pink everywhere

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These are the buttons to an electric stovetop – note the old-school cover

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This fridge is mounted at eye-level, like a cabinet

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Even the oven is pink!

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The appliances all still come with their 1950s manuals

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The fridge is a bit small, but at least it’s… pink

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The dishwasher pulls all the way out

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Here’s what dish detergent looked like in the 50s

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02 Feb 21:00

Punk band with Down Syndrome looks to raise awareness in Eurovision Song Contest

by Alex Moore

A punk band from Finland is looking to make this year’s Eurovision Song Contest a little more interesting.

PKN (Pertti Kurikan Nimipaivat) is a four-piece punk band whose members all have Down Syndrome—some are also autistic. They’ve been playing together for the last six years and were the centerpiece of a 2009 documentary called “The Punk Syndrome,” which explored the band as a vehicle for self-expression and raising awareness about Down Syndrome.

The band formed in a charity workshop for adults with intellectual disabilities, and The Independent reports that this year they’re hoping to bring more awareness to their cause by competing in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Eurovision is kind of like the Olympics for pop songs, but only in Europe. Also like the Olympics, none of the winners are people you’d hear about in regular life—the only Eurovision champs you’d probably recognize since the event’s founding in 1956 are Celine Dion and ABBA.

So suffice it to say that a Finnish punk band with Down Syndrome will be a break from the norm. PKN winning Eurovision would be about the only thing that would make the contest really noteworthy on a global level.

The Independent notes the song they plan to submit is “Aina Mun Pitaa,” which translates to “I Always Have To.” Take a listen:

The contest winner will be announced in Vienna, Austria—this year’s Eurovision host country—on May 23rd. Before getting to the finals PKN will have to beat out 17 other Finnish bands to represent their country at Eurovision.

But judging the career arcs of past years’ winners, these guys have already won just by raising the awareness that they have so far.

[h/t Independent Image]

27 Jan 09:06

NewWind raises €1.1 Million for its Urban Tree-Shaped Wind Turbine

by Peter Campobasso

NewWindFrench green tech company, NewWind, just raised over 1.1€ million for its product, l’Arbre à Vent. A wind turbine in the form of a tree, this device is capable of generating enough electricity for a family of four, or about 3.5kW of energy. The innovation comes in the silent spin of the light-weight metallic leaves on each branch that turn even in the lightest of winds, essentially able to generate energy in most weather conditions.

The Brittany-based company received its funding locally, with 390,000€ coming from Crédit Mutuel de Bretagne, Crédit Agricole des Cotes d’Armor, and the Initiative Armor, while the other 760,000€ came from WiSeed, a French crowd funding site. The money comes just two months before the Arbre à Vent makes its debut at the Place de la Concorde in Paris. This couldn’t be better positioning for a Green Tech solution orienting itself towards urban settings. In a city preparing for a Global Climate Summit later on this year, the Arbre à Vent is may just be poised to receive even more financial support as well as great media attention. It could certainly make a big splash in the Reinvent Paris call for projects, in which it is taking part.

Pricing for the Wind Tree turbine runs at about 29,500€. Time will tell just how this product will be used. NewWind shows the prototype in urban public spaces, such as parks, and it is certainly imaginable in many open spaces. While it’s definitely a new concept to address urban sustainability challenges, I question how the “planting” of these new turbine-trees will impact their natural neighbors in an urban setting. Whether people will go for the juxtaposition could be at issue. Municipalities purchasing it will have to address what exact use it will serve, in particular how much power they are expecting to get from it when deciding if it’s worth the cost. However, the response it receives in Paris, a city of aesthetics, will be highly demonstrative as to whether or not this will be a hit on the market as a whole.

"NewWind raises €1.1 Million for its Urban Tree-Shaped Wind Turbine" by Peter Campobasso originally appeared on Rude Baguette

22 Jan 06:04

Björk Just Dropped Some Serious Truths About Women In The Music Industry

by Meg Watson

To discuss the release of her new album VulnicuraBjörk — Icelandic musician and global trendsetter in all that is weird — recently sat down to talk to Jessica Hopper from Pitchfork. This new album, which works through the end of her relationship with long-time partner, Matthew Barney, is a major turn for the artist whose music has previously been occupied with surreal takes on particle physics and an ongoing fascination with gemstones.

So naturally, there was a lot to talk about.

Published today, the interview starts out in a predictably odd fashion (making note of the fact the artist is attired in a flamingo-pink kimono and sporadically breaking into tears), but it ends somewhere a lot more interesting. Björk used it as an opportunity to speak out about some of the problems and prejudices she’s faced as a woman in the music industry.

Here are some of the serious truths she dropped.

#1: “Women are the glue. It’s invisible, what women do. It’s not rewarded as much.”

When speaking about the huge difference in subject matter between Biophilia and Vulnicura, Björk tried to explain the way in which the former album was also a kind of statement about womanhood.

“I was being like Kofi Annan — I had to be the pacifist to try to unite the impossible. Maybe that was a strange, personal job between me and myself, to show how overreaching I was being as a woman. The only way I could express that was by comparing it to the universe. If you can make nature and technology friends, then you can make everyone friends; you can make everyone intact. That’s what women do a lot — they’re the glue between a lot of things. Not only artists, but whatever job they do: in the office, or homemakers. Biophilia was like my own personal slapstick joke, showing I had to reach so long — between solar systems — to connect everything. It’s like the end scene in Mary Poppins, when she’s made everyone friends, and the father realises that kids are more important than money — and [then] she has to leave [crying]. It’s a strange moment. Women are the glue. It’s invisible, what women do. It’s not rewarded as much.”

Of course, you may not have got this impression at first from listening to songs like ‘Crystalline’ where she puts her head inside a planet and shoots laser beams at the moon, but it’s a pretty interesting idea all the same.

That Bjork piece is so important, esp thinking about how women’s labour is meant to be so invisible that it isn’t even thought of as labour.

— Madeleine Wall (@clairgustance) January 22, 2015

#2: On taking ownership of her work: “You’re a coward if you don’t stand up. Not for you, but for women. Say something.”

As is the case with many female artists, there have been many times when she hasn’t got the full credit she deserved. This came to a head most recently with Vulnicura; many news outlets credited Alejandro Ghersi (aka Acra) with the production, despite the fact Björk was a co-producer.

“I didn’t want to talk about that kind of thing for 10 years, but then I thought, “You’re a coward if you don’t stand up. Not for you, but for women. Say something.” So around 2006, I put something on my website where I cleared something up, because it’d been online so many times that it was becoming a fact. It wasn’t just one journalist getting it wrong, everybody was getting it wrong. I’ve done music for, what, 30 years? I’ve been in the studio since I was 11; Alejandro had never done an album when I worked with him.”

just to clarify! rather than "sole producing,"@bjork and I are coproducing music together! just a quick correction to phrasing !! *curtsie*

— Arca (@arca1000000) September 30, 2014

She then spoke more generally about the problem at large.

“I have nothing against Kanye West. Help me with this — I’m not dissing him — this is about how people talk about him. With the last album he did, he got all the best beatmakers on the planet at the time to make beats for him. A lot of the time, he wasn’t even there. Yet no one would question his authorship for a second. If whatever I’m saying to you now helps women, I’m up for saying it. For example, I did 80% of the beats on Vespertine and it took me three years to work on that album, because it was all microbeats — it was like doing a huge embroidery piece. Matmos came in the last two weeks and added percussion on top of the songs, but they didn’t do any of the main parts, and they are credited everywhere as having done the whole album. [Matmos’] Drew [Daniel] is a close friend of mine, and in every single interview he did, he corrected it. And they don’t even listen to him. It really is strange.”

While I was thought Kanye as a conductor, not pure creator, on his last album, I had no idea Bjork did Vaspertine's melodies. Amazing.

— Allistair Pinsof (@megaspacepanda) January 22, 2015

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#3: “Everything that a guy says once, you have to say five times.”

After firmly establishing that she’s had to deal with some pretty fucked up things, she came out with some broader life advice for women who can learn from her experiences.

“I want to support young girls who are in their 20s now and tell them: You’re not just imagining things. It’s tough. Everything that a guy says once, you have to say five times. Girls now are also faced with different problems. I’ve been guilty of one thing: After being the only girl in bands for 10 years, I learned — the hard way — that if I was going to get my ideas through, I was going to have to pretend that they — men — had the ideas. I became really good at this and I don’t even notice it myself. I don’t really have an ego. I’m not that bothered. I just want the whole thing to be good. And I’m not saying one bad thing about the guys who were with me in the bands, because they’re all amazing and creative, and they’re doing incredible things now. But I come from a generation where that was the only way to get things done. So I have to play stupid and just do everything with five times the amount of energy, and then it will come through.”

Yikes. Though that may be helpful for women who are feeling downtrodden or unheard, it’s a pretty sad state of affairs when your best advice is, ‘It sucks, but that’s the way it is’.

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#4: “It’s a lot of what people see … maybe it’s not all sexist evil.”

The musician then conceded that it’s difficult to convey a sense of ownership in her kind of musical style — one hugely driven by behind-the-scenes mixing work that nobody ever gets to see. Though that doesn’t really account for her seemingly shitty experience with men elsewhere, it’s probably an important concession to make when making such accusations.

“When I met M.I.A., she was moaning about this, and I told her, “Just photograph yourself in front of the mixing desk in the studio, and people will go, ‘Oh, OK! A woman with a tool, like a man with a guitar … It’s a lot of what people see. During a show, because there are people onstage doing the other bits, I’m just a singer. For example, I asked Matmos to play all the beats for the Vespertine tour, so maybe that’s kind of understandable that people think they made them. So maybe it’s not all sexist evil. [laughs] But it’s an ongoing battle. I hope it doesn’t come across as too defensive, but it is the truth. I definitely can feel the third or fourth feminist wave in the air, so maybe this is a good time to open that Pandora’s box a little bit and air it out.”

YES. Who knew Björk made so much sense when she wasn’t making whale noises?

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Read the full interview on Pitchfork.

21 Jan 18:20

How to Not Give a Shit: Making Art While Female

by Dayna Evans

How to Not Give a Shit: Making Art While Female

"I feel very strongly about that: an alternative to the idea of women being a certain way." Janet Weiss, the drummer for Sleater-Kinney, was sitting on a leather green swivel chair three feet in front of me as she responded to a question from Broad City's Ilana Glazer about feminism. "The quiet, demure, soft-spoken sort of stereotype. The three of us get on stage and we really try to break that down and give people who feel differently than that a place to go and a place to express themselves."

Read more...

21 Jan 20:02

Remedial Bicycling

by Hallie Bateman

20 Jan 17:00

Why You Should Always Lock Your Car Doors in San Francisco

by Matthew J.X. Malady

People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, writer Roberto Baldwin tells us more about living in a state of Uber confusion—which is to say, California.

Pulled over to text wife. Someone got in my car thinking it was an uber. Le sigh

— Roberto Baldwin (@strngwys) January 3, 2015

Roberto! So what happened here?

At some point every car in San Francisco will be an Uber and every citizen, a driver, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when a random stranger walked up to my car, opened the passenger door, and started to take a seat. Actually, it’s really my fault. I pulled over to respond to a text from my wife a few yards from the famous-for-charging-too-much-for-toast coffee shop, The Mill. If you’re a car near The Mill, you’re probably picking up or dropping off a very important startup founder or VC. 

Still it was a bit surprising when a gentleman who was on the phone started to get into my car. Before he actually took a seat, he peered into the vehicle and I asked, “Can I help you?” His response, “Oh shit!” He then quickly closed the door and ran off. I mean ran in the literal sense. He actually ran away from the car. 

As he ran off (actually running) he mumbled something to the mysterious person on the other end of his phone call. Maybe he told the person he almost got into a private passenger vehicle thinking it was his Uber. I like to think he told the person that he was almost kidnapped and it was only his quick thinking and sprinting that saved him from a life of basement bondage.

The weirdest part is that I drive a Fiat—the small one with only two doors. Not exactly a car made for driving random strangers around (or kidnapping them), and yet this has happened before. 

Wait, this has happened to you in the past? Does it always go down in the exact same way? And have you thought about running some sort of prearranged bit the next time this occurs?

Not only has it happened before, but other people are telling me that this happens pretty often in San Francisco. The last time it happened to me it was about 10 p.m. at night and I was South of Market. I had just gotten into my car and started it up. I was selecting music on my iPhone when a guy walked up, opened the door and began to sit in the passenger seat. I just looked at him iPhone in hand, The Smiths blaring out of the speakers, thinking it was someone I knew hopping in the car to say hi. Nope, just some random dude who decided that getting into a stranger’s car in the middle of the night without first making sure it was his ride was a smart idea. He quickly realized his mistake, apologized, and got out of the car. 

I’ve decided that next time this happens I’ll just drive off with the person and start asking if they have the money for the “stuff.” As they stutter that they’re not sure what I’m talking about and that they must have gotten into the wrong car, I’ll tell them: “Yeah, I bet Dave told you to say that. You know what? You can tell Dave he’s not getting his pets back until he pays what’s due. In fact, I want you to put that fancy-ass phone to your ear right now, call Dave, and tell him I said that.” At that point I’m pretty sure they’ll just jump out of the vehicle. Or, they’ll call Dave and tell him what I said. 

Another option is to treat it like a car-jacking and scream at the individual that I have a wife and kids and that they can have my car, just please don’t hurt me. 

Lesson learned (if any)? 

I suppose I should start locking my car doors while I drive. People will still try to get in the car, but a locked door will hopefully snap them out of their trance and allow them to see that this Fiat isn’t their ride to the Battery or startup party or wherever the hell they’re going. 

Just one more thing.

The next iteration of this is someone knocking at my front door because they think I’m in their Airbnb. There’ll be confusion and phones will be double checked because “I’m sure this is the address.” Eventually they’ll leave. Well, hopefully. 

This is just a symptom of everyone in San Francisco walking around in a smartphone-induced haze. Sure it happens in other places, but this is the birthplace of the technology that begs for our attention. And because we can never be unconnected or bored, we gleefully give it over. So instead of paying attention to what’s going on around us, we jump into the car of a random stranger because an app said that’s where our ride would be located. 

I’m just as bad as everyone else, with my face buried in Twitter as I walk past the bar I was supposed to meet friends at for the third time. How long until someone actually drives off with a confused Uber customer? I’m sure it’s happening right now. But at least they’re not being charged surge pricing or a safety fee.

Photo by Joakim Formo

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23 Dec 19:00

The Passive-Aggressive Guide to Book Gifting

by Louisa Hager

Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
The perfect gift for: Your mom
What you're really saying: "Your new boyfriend is not my dad and I'm going to make things very difficult for you."

Le Morte d’Arthur, by Sir Thomas Malory
The perfect gift for: Your absent father
What you’re really saying: “See what happens when you ignore your kid?”

The Odyssey, by Homer
The perfect gift for: Your boyfriend
What you’re really saying: “You’re always late, and I have other options.”

Read more The Passive-Aggressive Guide to Book Gifting at The Toast.

15 Jan 20:20

Belle and Sebastian Albums, In Order

by Alex Balk

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9. Storytelling

8. Write About Love

7. Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

6. Dear Catastrophe Waitress

5. The Boy with the Arab Strap

4. Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant

3. The Life Pursuit

2. Tigermilk

1. If You’re Feeling Sinister

12 Jan 16:20

The Internet Is Terrible Because Of Everyone: A Continuing Series

by Alex Balk

For someone who believes that everything is terrible and only getting worse, and that what we see on the web is both fulcrum and paradigm of that horrific progression, I spend a lot of time thinking about and discussing the Internet and its awfulness. Perhaps it is masochism. Perhaps it is the manifestation of a desire to somehow identify the source of the increasing terror that is corroding our souls. Perhaps it is a combination of the two. Regardless, my continuing examinations into the nightmare of our existence in the digital space and its spillover into our waking life have already resulted in the discovery of Balk’s Law (“Everything you hate about The Internet is actually everything you hate about people.”) and more recently yielded a further realization which, in consultation with a team of advisers, is still being refined, but that I feel is too important to keep from the population at large until it has been fully developed.

I want to repeat the caveat that this is highly theoretical and its ultimate implications have not yet been rationalized, and also warn you that there is a good deal of technical imprecision to the theory as it currently exists, but if you are willing to look past those exceptions we can proceed. Okay. At some point, probably in the ’80s, probably in The Book of Questions or one of the myriad knock-off versions, a query was posed about whether you would actually want to know the totality of what other people genuinely thought regarding your appearance, temperament and behaviors, instead of the sliver that they, bound by the dictates of courtesy and tact, expressed in your presence. The premise behind the question was the idea that society is only held together by a massive state of denial in which we consciously disregard the low esteem other people have for our assortment of generally disagreeable personality traits while maintaining a thick internal file of our various collected disdain for everyone else’s. This is not particularly groundbreaking in its understanding of the cognitive dissonance necessary to avoid widespread psychic paralysis but it was a recent reminder of the question that brought me to what I am tentatively denominating Balk’s Second Law. What I realized was that the worst thing isn’t knowing what everyone thinks about you. No, Balk’s Second Law puts it this way: The worst thing is knowing what everyone thinks about anything. And here is where we see the true malignant force that drives the Internet: It is the purest mechanism yet through which everyone can express every idiot opinion they have about everything to everyone else. I will not even get into all the metacognitive aspects of this or the terrible ways in which we classify all these opinions, the derisiveness of which is its own kind of awfulness. No, for now I just want you to let this sink in for a second: The Internet is poisoning you every day with its constant gush of idiot opinion from the vast waste-ridden tide of people who need to be reminded to shut their mouths while breathing. It is terrible and only getting worse, and the various forms of social media are only amplifying the process and hastening us toward our inevitable end.

That said, even I have to admit that there was something indescribably beautiful this weekend to watching a bunch of Dallas Cowboy fans bitch and moan on Twitter, without any sense of irony or self-awareness, about how a bad call robbed them of a playoff victory. Hahahaha! Suck it, you ignorant sacks! I hope bitterness tastes good, because that is all you will have to eat for another year. Hahahaha! Losers!

12 Jan 05:00

News: The Drones Are Reissuing ‘Everything We’ve Recorded’

by Mess+Noise

The Drones Are Reissuing ‘Everything We’ve Recorded’

The Drones have jumpstarted the new year by announcing ambitious plans to reissue “everything we’ve recorded.”

First up is a double-vinyl new edition of their 2005 third album, The Miller’s Daughter. Long out-of-print and celebrating a decade this year, it’s just been reissued by Spanish label Bang! Records and features a cover of John Lennon’s ‘Well, Well, Well’ that was only available in the original vinyl pressing, as well as “previously unseen pics and revised artwork,” according to a recent Facebook post. It’s available now at select Australian record stores, says the band.

The Miller’s Daughter will also see digital release for the first time this year, according to another Facebook post, and the band’s AMP-winning Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By (2005) and debut LP Here Come the Lies (2002) will earn their first-ever vinyl release.

The Drones’ most recent album, 2013’s I See Seaweed, topped our Critics Poll and came in at #2 on our Readers Poll. The band are working on its follow-up as we speak. Also, frontman Gareth Liddiard will play solo as part of The Gasometer’s Collingwood Open series on Friday, February 27, supported by Ela Stiles (Songs, Bushwalking, solo) and Jensen Tjhung (Deaf Wish, Lower Plenty, Exhaustion). Tickets for that here.

23 Dec 15:12

Lord Of The Rings Litter Box And Sauron Scratching Post For Cats

by Julija K.

Tim Baker and the team of Superfan Builds make the most awesome one-of-a-kind items for fans of movies, video games, comics and other pop culture. In celebration of the release of the final Hobbit movie, the team surprised a true Lord of the Rings fan and his two cats, Frodo and Sam, with Hobbit house cat litter box and the Eye of Sauron cat scratching post.

They used foam and rope to build the tower, attaching a catnip eye at the top. The house was also made from foam, decorated with delicately made trees and flowers. They even recreated Hobbit’s tiny tools and pot plants near the windows!

To see the reactions of fans and how the team made this possible be sure to watch the full video below.

More info: Facebook |  Youtube  (h/t: neatorama)

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The making of

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06 Jan 19:00

The Sounds of Rain

by Josephine Livingstone

Illustration by Hallie Bateman

When I woke up in the middle of the night that joined Monday to Tuesday, I only had a few hours left to sleep, but didn’t. The rain was back! My body was tired but the night was singing. I smiled into the dark and listened. That night I stayed awake through the real rain; other times, I depend on simulated rain. I incessantly play RainyCafé while I’m working but also need the Rain, Rain app to fall asleep. My favorite setting is “City Rain” (“Harbor Seagulls” is totally awful, “Rain on a Tent” is fine). I can hardly sleep without it.

Actual rain falling on my urban windows was, however, just too good to miss. I have lived on three continents and my family comes from a fourth: these circumstances have forged in me a deep and abiding attachment to environmental constants. At two, the rain in Hong Kong seemed to bounce off the pavement as high as I was tall. At ten, I slept under a slanted window in an attic bedroom, watched over by rough grey London skies. The smell and the sound of rain, you’ll find, doesn’t change much. Hot rain falling on the sea is a bit different from cold rain falling on concrete, sure, but there’s a note somewhere in there that is always just the same.

Without that constant note, I can’t concentrate or empty my mind. Similar feelings can be found in music, and it is no coincidence that good work-music often sounds a bit rainy. Tim Hecker veers pretty far into the crunchy drone of noise but also likes to punctuate his work with events; snapping, crackling passages that roll across the ceiling of the music like thunder. Slowdive totally sounds like rain. My friend Georgia associates rain with Gnossiennes No. 5. Stan Getz’s Blood Count does it for me. For a whole year I only listened to Wagner’s Parsifal while working, not because I like it that much (I’m not that high-brow) but because my German is so bad that the libretto neither distracted me nor warned me when the terrible screams were coming. Like thunder, screams keep you alert.

Rain sound is like opera because they both have core thematic structures but are also so big and organic that no single moment is characteristic of the whole thing. It takes hours to absorb and appreciate the whole. It is also like opera in that it is music, not noise. A lot of people find brown noise (named for Brownian motion, not the color) or pink noise (named the color of visible light with the same frequency spectrum) soporific, or calming. There are many thousands of hours of these noises to be found on YouTube. But it doesn’t suit me: noise doesn’t vary, it is just a smoothed-out, blanketed audio ooze. Noise has a quality, but not a music. Rain’s musical aspects—the pattering rhythm of its fall, the various percussive timbres specific to its fall on particular surfaces, the sweet modulations of the storm’s thunder-cracks—are particular to it, and special. Noise without dynamics is just silence with a different color.

In honor of the subtle music of rain, therefore, here is a rundown of the five most important types, to me:

Spring rain (London, England)

Spring rain in England happens often. It is a sweet bright sprinkling in the inkling of warm weather, still very cold but landing on blossom rather than bare branches. Attempt to eat in a park and grey clouds will roll over your April lunch break, determined to spatter your sandwich. Watch it through your office window instead, dreaming about your summer holidays and forgetting that this, the green and tender knife-edge of the year, is already perfect. Sleeping under this rain is a bit over-exciting and you may well become tired and stressed. If you have big exams coming up, try to read a detective novel until you get drowsy, then let the imagined pressure of the drizzle bash you gently to sleep.

Summer rain (Hong Kong, China)

It doesn’t rain all that often in Hong Kong, but when it does, it rains very hard. These are my earliest memories of anything. This rain is pummeling, hot, and lands on water and wood and the roofs of the trams. This rain was happening the first time I tried to stay awake all night on purpose and could not manage it. We were too far from the ground to hear the splashing of puddles—inside the cloud, really—so the sound of the storm was deep and structural. I fought the drops coming down the window against the orange night sky and lost.

Autumn storm rain (Brooklyn, USA)

You will be cornered by this rain, which howls at you like a vengeful harpy. Occupy the bedroom accordingly. Make fortifications. Do not let anybody you do not like into your apartment. Danger is everywhere. If there is a hurricane, make sure you have enough red wine and cigarettes in advance. Get ready for thick darkness. Watch Casablanca with one person you trust. Sleep and dream that the sound of stuff smashing on the roof is all about you.

Winter rain (Cape Town, South Africa)

This is driving rain, happening across a grey car park. It is boring, but only because you are a teenager. You try to stay awake to fume about everything but get lulled against your will. You can’t stay angry forever. The rain smothers and traps and soothes you in exactly the same way your big and crazy extended family does, so get used to it.

Total absence of rain (Namibia)

It turns out that after growing up in huge, filthy cities, the general countryside is sort of intolerable but absolute silence is fine. If I was born and raised among traffic and yelling and rain, my dad was born into the opposite. Pressed between endless semi-desert and a huge dry sky, you couldn’t even imagine rain falling on this little bit of earth. But the stars are bright and you are many miles from the people and duties which stress you out. Turns out you can live without the sound of rain as long as everything the rain neutralizes is gone too. Anyway, it is good to visit the places your parents are from and realize that you could live another way if you had to.

Like Klonopin, the therapeutic effect of rain sound lies in its ability to blur selectively. It takes the edge off the silence so that the outlines of your thought (or the purity of your sleep) can stay clear. After I close the rain sound tab I’m listening to now, the inside of my head will feel like your body does after you step off a trampoline: unnaturally hard and heavy, glowing with a kind of swelling and fluorescent anxiety. Empty noiselessness is as horrible as a big, tacky Californian villa. Held in the middle of any ambient cloud of sound—a language I don’t understand, a clattering restaurant, a rainstorm, an airplane’s thrum and rattle—I can sit and work and stay still. I’m not from anywhere in particular, but if I have a home, that’s it.

23 Dec 21:20

Let Baby Bjork Read You a Christmas Story in Icelandic, You'll Love it

by Hillary Crosley

Let Baby Bjork Read You a Christmas Story in Icelandic, You'll Love it

Bjork learned early that few things are more calming than flutes, violins, soft story-telling and a piccolo, which is how she began slaying audiences back in 1976.

Read more...

16 Dec 16:00

What We’ve Done to Wolves

by Amy Collier

Amy Collier's previous work for The Toast can be found here.

Poodles:
1 poodle

Bloodhounds:
2 bloodhound

Chow-Chows:
3 chow chows

Chihuahuas:
4 chihuahuas

large mops:
5 mop

Read more What We’ve Done to Wolves at The Toast.

14 Dec 22:44

An 18-Year-Old Hazara Refugee In Indonesia Is Making Documentaries On His Smartphone

by Alex McKinnon

The debate around asylum seekers in Australia is an old and frequently vicious one that does an excellent job of silencing some of the most important voices: the asylum seekers and refugees themselves. A combination of government secrecy, language barriers, the tyranny of distance and political scapegoating means that we rarely hear directly from the people who our policies affect the most, and struggle to understand their point of view.

Now some refugees living in limbo in Indonesia are taking matters into their own hands, using whatever resources at their disposal to tell their own stories in their own ways. Khadim Dai is an eighteen-year-old guy living in Cisarua, south of Jakarta. He fled his native Pakistan after a bomb went off in his school, killing 126 people, and decided to make his way towards Australia.

Khadim and his roommates, Baz Muhammad, Rahim and Amanullah, are Hazara, an ethnic group prevalent mainly in Afghanistan and Pakistan who have been frequent targets of violence from the Taliban and other fundamentalist groups. Armed with a smartphone, Khadim has begun documenting their lives as they wait to hear on their refugee status from the local UNHCR office — playing soccer, making musical instruments out of motorbike helmets, and making naan and fruit smoothies.

Khadim’s videos recently gained a profile with Indonesian online outlet Coconuts Jakarta, and they’ve started to gain attention on Reddit (via user Captwacky). In an earlier video, Khadim recounts how he and some friends began setting up a learning centre for the dozens of Hazara children in the neighbourhood who aren’t allowed to go to school.

Khadim and his friends have a Facebook page, ‘Who Are We Anyway?’, which they regularly update, as does the Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre. If refugees seeking to start a new life in Australia are speaking up despite — or because of — their circumstances, Australia would do well to listen.

Feature image via Who Are We Anyway?