Monthly Archives: May 2009

‘That’s barely a sentence’

Best Texts From Last Night entry ever:

(256): You took my girl thats shot the Fuck out. You better watch your skinny ass.
(1-256): That's barely a sentence. Who's your girl? I think you've got the wrong number. I haven't even lived in Alabama for 4 years.
(256): Yeah, I do, I'm sorry. I meant 205 not 256. sorry about that.
(1-256): Good luck with your revenge in Birmingham.

You can tell this is from the South because all the aggression comes within an Extra Value Meal of politeness and chivalry.

Furthermore, you can tell I'm getting old by the fact that I had to look up 'shot the fuck out' on Urban Dictionary.

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What I did last night: Messenger copy-pasting is easier than blogging edition

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Esben
what’d you do last night?

Mike
zombie pub crawl! Everybody dresses like a zombie and shuffles through town getting drunk.

Mike
We were fucking throwed after like a bar and a half. And we ended up calling it a night hella early due to *the cops showed up*.

Esben
oh my Geee

Mike
They rocked up while we were all hanging around in a park, at like 8 pm.

They were negotiating with the main zombie: A 23-year-old with a Wolverine costume, a megaphone and a gaping headwound. They cops didn’t really do anything, they just stood around and filmed us.

Esben
filmed?!

Mike
‘?!’ is right. Aren’t we supposed to be filming them? It’s not like we’re gonna violate their civil rights.

Esben
Is that legal?

Mike
I guess. I mean, we were in public. There were like 400 of us. Apparently people were complaining that we got bloody handprints on their cars. Which is actually rather reasonable.

Esben
still though, filming, xst

Mike
Have my human rights been violated?

Esben
I feel like they shouldn't, but then, I hate the cops more than anything

Mike
I kinda do too. I get hella contemptuous and difficult when I'm around cops, like a defiantly pregnant middle schooler.

What's your excuse? Surely you haven't had some sort of run-in with them.

Esben
cops are from jutland, they vote venstre, they are straight and they live in houses with television sets and one wife and two children

as a result I want to bomb them

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Social networking 3.0: Widespread mockery

Shut the Fuck Up, Marrieds

Awful Facebook Status

These sites are good illustrations of the snowballing effect of social networking. You sign up to Facebook thinking it's going to help you keep track of events and make it easier to contact your friends. Before you know it, you've got 500 friends, the majority of whom you don't like or only met once, and all of a sudden you're an anthropologist: That's your status update?! Why did you take the 'which genocidal dictator are you?' quiz?! Who are these people?

… and then you post them elsewhere on the internet, so the rest of us can point and laugh. And we'd like to thank you.

UPDATE: OK, this is pretty great too.

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In defense of tourism. Sort of.

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Here's an interesting Economist synopsis of a study showing that creative people are more likely to live abroad:

Anecdotal evidence has long held that creativity in artists and writers can be associated with living in foreign parts. Rudyard Kipling, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Paul Gauguin, Samuel Beckett and others spent years dwelling abroad. Now a pair of psychologists has proved that there is indeed a link.

[...] To check that they had not merely discovered that creative people are more likely to choose to live abroad, Dr Maddux and Dr Galinsky identified and measured personality traits, such as openness to new experiences, that are known to predict creativity. They then used statistical controls to filter out such factors. Even after that had been done, the statistical relationship between living abroad and creativity remained, indicating that it is something from the experience of living in foreign parts that helps foster creativity.

Merely travelling abroad, however, was not enough. You do have to live there.

It's the last sentence that interests me. I've done a ton of traveling in the last few years, and it's slowly occurred to me that many of the values that we place on travel aren't, in the nitty-gritty, true.

Western culture, especially bourgeois American culture, casts travel as inherently eye-opening, character-building and mind-enriching. You experience another culture, see a new way of life and take lessons from it. Right?

But that's not necessarily, or even typically, the case. Tourism is a different activity than absorbing the culture of a place. Going up the Eiffel Tower is a blast, but it's unlikely to give you anything but the most superficial understanding of France or the French people.  

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In my own case, I've traveled around Europe a ton, but mostly like a skipped rock. I've spent, for example, two days in Budapest, Prague, Ljubljana and Bratislava. But let's face it: I don't have any deeper understanding of those places than anyone who has read their Wikipedia entries. We like to talk about 'soaking up the character' of a city or 'getting a feel' for it's people, but in my experience those activities really just boil down to superimposing our preconceptions on our very limited experiences in foreign places.

I've seen this a lot with Americans visiting Copenhagen for a few days or a week. They often say things like 'You can just tell that everyone feels taken care of' or 'Danes seem so confident.' These observations are usually made when observing entirely un-indicative behaviors, such as people barbecueing in a park, and are almost always incorrect, at least compared to the conclusions I've made after living here for 3 years.

But then I think of the observations I've made about cultures like China ('you can really feel the excitement about the future') or Kazakhstan ('People seem like they're stuck in a holding pattern'), and I realize that I'm doing the same thing. Traveling in those countries was fascinating, but it hasn't given me any deeper knowledge of them. It's just given me 3-d illustrations of what I already knew.

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I'm not saying this to talk shit on tourists. I'm an avid one, and I think travel is a blast. All I'm saying is that our culture-wide lionization of short-term travel, as opposed to deep engagement, obscures the purpose. Many of my smartest, most fascinating friends aren't particularly well-traveled, and when they do travel it's not to look at a decaying cathedral through a viewfinder. They go river rafting, or trout fishing, or tropical triathlonning. Others simply want to find a warm, beach towel-sized rectangle next to an ocean and read a book for 15 days. More power to 'em.

Travel, especially European travel, is often used as a proxy for engagement or interest in a country. 'I don't need to know how World War I started — I've been to Austria!'

But the cosmopolitanism we're praising only comes from living in a country, having friends from there or actually sitting down and learning about it. Getting a Euro-squeezer in a hostel dorm room doesn't count.

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An Egg McMuffin is better for you than a bagel and cream cheese?!

I came across this utterly fucking chilling article today while reading about some waistline-pioneering US Senators who are trying to make calorie-labelling mandatory in chain restaurants. It's amazing how the 'common sense' healthy choices (bagel, salad, turkey burger) are significantly higher in calories than the guilty pleasures (sirloin steak, quarter pounder), and terrifying how easy it is to eat 6,000 calories in a day.

Calorie labelling is one of those issues that I'm kind of surprised doesn't have broader popularity. I mean, we all love that we can flip over a loaf of bread and see what's in it, and how much fiber, sugar and fat we'll be eating underneath our peanut butter or our smoked herring (ugh oh god denmark ugh god no). Why is this suddenly a bad idea to apply the same principle to restaurants?

As a political issue, what really surprises me is the lack of outrage over food contents, especially restaurant food. Ruby Tuesday's, an American chain restaurant, sells a turkey burger and baked potato meal that has fucking 1,500 calories. That's a lunch that has 3/4 of your obeso-units for the entire day. Does this restaurant consider that a remotely reasonable component of a healthy lifestyle? How are people not pissed off about this?

Or what about the fact that pretty much anything you make at home will have fewer calories than the same food at a restaurant? This website says that homemade chocolate chip cookies have 185 calories each. Fine, it's a treat, whatever. The same cookie at Starbucks has between fucking 400 and 610 calories. That's the same as a Big Mac

I don't know enough about food science to know why the vast disparity exists, but surely Starbucks could reduce that calorie count if it wanted to. There needs to be some sort of public campaign to bring a bit of common sense to restaurant ingredients and portion sizes.

The problem is that restaurants have no incentive to make their foods actually healthy. They only have an incentive to make them seem healthy. You buy the Bran-Bomb Bagel for breakfast every morning thinking you're being all moderate and shit, you don't make the connection to your carb-dealer when you gain 10 pounds every year.

Opponents of calorie labeling schemes often make the argument that calorie information won't affect peoples' choices, and we should all be eating with our common sense, and have the salad instead of the cake, etc.

But as the above examples illustrate, common sense on food is hella fucking wrong half the time. And yes, everyone ordering the Starbucks cookie-monster knows it's bad for them, but they probably don't know how bad it is. I couldn't help taking a picture of a latte menu in New York, where calorie labelling is in effect, simply because I had no idea that a cup of hot, brown milk could possibly have 850 calories.

So citizens: Get pissed off. Starbucks hates you and wants you to jiggle your way to the grave. And senators: Pass this motherfucker already. Bring all 500-calorie snacks into the light! There is no principled defense, from the left or the right, for denying relevant information to consumers. And everyone else: Go bake some cookies. They're only bad for you if you buy them at Starbucks. 

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I know right!

The Conventional Wisdom is Wrong, chapter 17,643:

Here’s a general rule that applies to basically every development program in every poor country in the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan: want to do something nice and useful for these people? Don’t build them a school. 

Believe it or not, people in poor countries actually have buildings. And they are capable of building more of them. They know how to do it, and it usually, for fairly simple economic reasons, does not cost more in any country to build a building than local people can afford. You know what they don’t know how to do? Teach science and math and English. 

And often, employing a trained teacher does cost more than they can afford in a small village, because such people are scarce, and it’s hard to spare extra labor in subsistence economies.

If you want to spend your money on education, don’t build them a school; pay to train some teachers, and then pay the teachers’ salaries.

 

A lot of my work deals with issues like this, and it's amazing how seldom funding agencies and company foundations hear the advice: 'You want to do something for a developing country community? Ask them what they need.' It's usually pretty simple from there.

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I read ‘Blankets’ yesterday

which was rather tremendous

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It's a memoir about growing up in a fundamentalist Christian family in Wisconsin, and falling intensely in love with a girl from church camp. As it's based on real life, the thematic content is all over the place (it bounces from celibate teenage love to babysitter molestation in the course of like 6 panels), but the juxtapositions work, and the growing disillusionment of the main character provides a scaffolding for all the different threads.

Here's a 'preview' thingy from the publisher. Time Magazine called it 'part teen romance novel, part coming-of-age novel, part faith-in-crisis novel', and that's all true. But with pictures! 

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‘So someone put the baby mannequins in sex positions’

IT'S SO GOOD. Seriously, I'm never going to achieve productivity again:

(857): seriously iPhone. stop autocorrecting all my fucks into ducks. you're making all my strong worded texts look harmless and adorable.
 
(314): So. Did i wake up at 430, try to drive home, stop to throw up at a shell, and try to clean out my car and drop my keys in a full dumpster? Yes.
 
(907): I told her it just looked small because my balls were gigantic. She bought it.
 
(512): i just sat at a stop sign for 10 minutes waiting for it to turn green. i need to STOP SMOKING THIS SHIT.
 
(312): She was drunk and kept trying to talk while I was in her mouth. It sounded like the teacher from a Charlie Brown cartoon
 
(334): Dual, econ, hell, shiv, aunt, puppy. 1 out of 6. T9 word needs to learn how to cuss like me.
 
(760): i get turned down more than a collar. where are the desperate bitches i need to crawl to them
 
(917): Um, that's called prostitution
(773): Not if I leave it on the nightstand, then it's called cab money
 
(913): So she farted while we were having sex but I was afraid she would stop because she was emberessed so i just went ahead and took the blame and apologized
 
(612): I found a pair of size 15 female undies on my floor?? is that big?
 
(910): wow wtf my bar tab was 80 dollars
(910): IT WAS DOLLAR BEER NIGHT
 
(216): when i woke up i was missing $380 from my bank account
(1-216): damn…impressive bar tab
(216): no i guess i bought a gasoline powered blender off ebay, i need a breathalyzer for my computer
 
(518): I hraet yuo
(862): did you say you heart me or hate me?
(518): who is this?

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There is no greater demonstration of the moral universe we inhabit

than my new favorite website, Texts From Last Night. The idea is to send in regrettable text messages (the numbers are area codes):

(704): I'm taking a dump and eating a fortune cookie and it said "Force it to be successful"
 
(303): I have to decide between the hot young blond with no apparent gag reflex, and the brunette with a great ass and a trust fund.
 
(845): Should I ask him to prom mid fuck? That way he has to say yes.
 
(636): I just put out an orange level terrorist threat on her punani
 
(305): He's not gay. He just has bad gaydar and he gaydared himself and was wrong.
 
(408): carls jr on main st. japanese tourist taking a dump in the urinal. reading a japanese newspaper and wearing a full suit.
(415): be there in 3 mins
 
(253): I will be horny for about another two hours. Feel free to call me until then.
 
(323): Dude, the girl i fucked last night left wearing my high school musical shirt you bought me. she also left her panties here though.
(562): The one with Zac Efrons face on it? You definitely got the short in of the stick. i'd rather have the shirt
(323): fuck. yeah me too. i don't even think these panties would fit me.
 
(706): hitting rock bottom=girl fakes converting to christianity in order to get out of having sex with you.
 
(727): He started to lick my mole,thinking it was my nipple.
 
(510): I got a call from 999 999 9999. I didn't answer it because I was too busy freaking out about the number.
(1-510): It was probably Jesus.
(510): I feel like he would have left a message.
 
(518): I know right? mind you this is the same woman who told me when I was 12 that oral sex just meant talking dirty
 
(916): is it cool if i come over and use your computer?
(1-916): what happened to yours?
(916): i got a little to drunk last night and threw up on it…then i tried to wash it off under the sink.
 
(843): Nice meating you last night
(843): Not a typo
 
Roughly 2 things occur to me:
  1. I miss minutiae-obsessed American friendships. It's a joy (seriously) to get random text messages from friends saying 'I'm sitting next to the weirdest guy on the bus' or 'Dude! [description of previous night]'.
    American friendships prioritize immediacy, whereas Euro-friendships go for more of a long-term simmer. There's a case to be made for both, but constitutionally I'm more of a short-term quipper than a long-term delver.
  2. The above repartee is exactly what I was talking about the other day. All of the above statements have more wit, character and connection to the way young people live now than anything I've seen on a 40-foot screen in the last five years. Sell the movie rights, TFLN!

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Never accept fashion advice from a man who wears a bow tie

George Will inexplicably has a column in a major American newspaper:

Denim is the infantile uniform of a nation in which entertainment frequently features childlike adults (”Seinfeld,” “Two and a Half Men”) and cartoons for adults (”King of the Hill”). Seventy-five percent of American “gamers” — people who play video games — are older than 18 and nevertheless are allowed to vote.

In their undifferentiated dress, children and their childish parents become undifferentiated audiences for juvenilized movies (the six — so far — “Batman” adventures and “Indiana Jones and the Credit-Default Swaps,” coming soon to a cineplex near you).

Denim is the clerical vestment for the priesthood of all believers in democracy’s catechism of leveling — thou shalt not dress better than society’s most slovenly. To do so would be to commit the sin of lookism — of believing that appearance matters. That heresy leads to denying the universal appropriateness of everything, and then to the elitist assertion that there is good and bad taste.

God, what an asshole. Notice the inexplicable reference to a television show that ended 11 years ago as an example of our current cultural depravity. There is also, gobsmackingly, a pejorative reference to 'cartoons for adults'. Drawings that move? Heavens no!

Old people lamenting the fashion and behavioral standards of the young has to be the lowest form of human discourse. This column, devoid of research, understanding, context or any human being more specific than 'youngsters', amounts to nothing beyond 'get off my lawn!' 

Columns like this are a staple of the old-man-with-600-words-to-kill genre. Start with a series of humankind's least sophistocated prejudices ('New is bad! World stay same!'), and giftwrap it in superfluous syllables and foggily understood pop-culture references. You could convey more nuance, understanding and intelligence in a fucking Tweet. 

George Will can fret about The Youth all he wants. If the level of discourse in this column is any indication, though, it's The Old we should all be worried about. 

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