Monthly Archives: June 2009

I was in Italy this weekend

hanging out with, among others, the bassist in this band:

The Calorifer is Very Hot – The First of the Gang to Die


and these guys, who are not Danish but are spelled that way.

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Progress costs jobs

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One of the only ways Americans seem to know how to assess a public policy is by counting how many jobs will be lost. The increasingly coagulated debate over health care reform, for example, often hinges on the unspeakable risk that some insurance companies will go out of business, or that the industry will shrink due to inability to compete with a public plan.
 

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I know the president can't say this, but fuck 'em. Name me one significant positive societal progression that didn't obsoletify a group of workers or an industry. The invention of the printing press deleted the entire profession of scribes. The installation of traffic lights cost traffic-directors their jobs.
 

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I wrote a report on the Democratic Republic of Congo last year. A country the size of the US east of the Mississippi that has only 500 miles of roads. Why don't they build more infrastructure? Because every time a road-building project gets underway, there are massive protests by the road porters, who make their living carrying goods from town to town.

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The insurance alarmists are showing precisely the same lack of foresight. A public plan, yes, would cost some jobs and businesses. It would also secure the health and lives of 40 million people.
 

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Jobs are important, and it's legitimate to discuss economic effects as an unintended consequence of drastic changes in policy. But economies grow and change, professionals move on to other careers. These sorts of shocks are precisely why some countries have social welfare, worker retaining programs and other safety nets: So people who lose their jobs don't end up in poverty (and, ahem, without health care).
 

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I'm sure that when the world began to pave itself at the beginning of the Automobile Era, there were loud voices of protest from horse stablers, carriage manufacturers and buggy-whip weavers. The politicians were correct to ignore them.

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Gastric bypass surgery is one of those things that would be difficult to explain to an alien species

'So, um, some people have consumed so much extra energy that they are forced to surgically restrict this ability. Partly for their health, but mostly so people won't stare at them on the subway.'

This is a nifty series of articles by a dude who had stomach-stapling surgery and has dropped 55 pounds (what's that, 25 kilos?) in three months. Apparently you have to change your whole diet–not to mention your wardrobe–because the procedure pretty much ctrl+alt+del's your digestive system.

It's also totally heartbreaking to read about the social aspect:

When I was fat, I avoided meeting people's gaze. That's because I felt that I did not want to subject them to my ugliness. Occasionally, I would glance at a pretty person, but the moment the person glanced back–there is a spooky action at a distance at work in the glance dance–I would snap my head and look in a neutral direction.

In any crowd of people, in a group conversation, in an interview, I always got the sense that my counterpart or counterparts were doing their best not to look at me. Why? Because they considered me to be ugly. And humans don't like to look at ugly things.

My God, to feel like that all the time.

It's funny how we, as a society, don't care how lazy or gluttonous you are as long as its not reflected in your appearance. There's no stigma against people who never exercise or constantly eat too much. Unless they're overweight, in which case we assume that's how they got that way and act disgusted. It's like my man Ta-Nehisi say: "The bigot's core refrain is never 'I hate you,' but 'Why are you making me hate you?' " 

One thing living in Denmark has taught me is that it matters how you're treated in public, even if it shouldn't. That brief eye contact with a pedestrian, the nod of that jogging passerby, the 10-second banter with the bank teller, it adds up to how placed you feel, how home your city is. Anyone who experiences a half-dozen rejections per day, no matter how micro, is going start to think 'maybe they're on to something'.

I know I mention this constantly, but every time I go back to America I'm struck by how many converse-lets (psychologists call them 'fleeting relationships', apparently) I have every day, and how much I fucking love it. My European friends all say these little 'have a nice day!' breaks are pointless. But if flirting with the counter-lady at the pharmacy is pointless, then why aren't your interactions with friends and coworkers and family? 

I've now come to the conclusion that Euros are just anti-banter because they can't pull it off. I've seen their continental kind attempt Fleetage. Without alcohol, it's all yes-no questions and 'so what neighborhood do you live in?' Criticize my National Culture of Superficiality all you want, Pierre, but until you've got the bant to make an insta-friend in line at Whole Foods, don't talk merde on those of us who can. 

Anyway, obesity. All I'm saying is, if you really wanna live the freedoms those terrorists hate us for, chat up the fat dude next to you on the airplane. At least you know he's not French.

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The best song I’ve heard in 2009

http://www.anonymousspace.com/albums/userpics/112625/What_The_Fuck_Is_This_Shit_Dr_Seus.jpg

And everyone I know hates it.

This is unsurprising, but still sorta disappointing. Since none of my friends share my taste, music is becoming like some weird fetish: Something I spend a lot of time obsessing over, yet never speak about out loud.

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I hope I get old like this dude

Voice all chalky and shit.

VS Naipaul

[skip to about 1.20]

The whole speech is fantastic. Here's the video, and here's the transcript.

I read this dude's opus, 'The Bend in the River' last year and was amazed at how well it was put together. It felt crafted more than written, mostly because he painstakingly resists showing off.

The book starts out, 'The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it,' and only gets more masculine from there. The emotional climax involves the main character punching his lover in the vagina. It's a Jupiter-sized Freudscape in less than 400 pages, and is highly recommended.

My favorite line from the book, which I can't find now, went something like: 'You know what your problem is? You think that there's no right or wrong in this place. But in fact, there's simply no right'.

Look at dude's other quotations, he's the thickest badass behind a typewriter,

  • 'Ignorant people in preppy clothes are more dangerous to America than oil embargoes'
  • 'One always writes comedy at the moment of deepest hysteria'
  • 'Argentine political life is like the life of an ant community or an African forest tribe: full of events, full of crisis and deaths, but life is always cyclical, and the year ends as it begins.'

I'm only half joking about wanting to become like this dude when I grow up. There's a quality to him, and other writers that I admire, that I have trouble describing beyond the term old-school. The density of information in a passage like this,

It was a good place for getting lost in, a city no one ever knew, a city explored from the neutral heart outward, until after many years, it defined itself into a jumble of clearings separated by stretches of the unknown, through which the narrowest of paths had been cut. 

is something that my generation just doesn't seem as good at. Or maybe it only comes with age. But I worry sometimes, in the scrum of a generation of talkers, whether we'll forget the achievements of the doers.

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Proof, as if you needed any, that record companies still don’t get it

I've been really digging this album, a collaboration between sad bastard indie-totem Sparklehorse and hip-hop tinkerer Danger Mouse:

Just War

Star Eyes

The album's in danger of not being released. It's definitely a weird album, but it's not that weird. Shit, Sparklehorse's last album had a 14-minute song featuring only a heartbeat, an organ and a piano called Dreamt For Light Years in The Belly of a Mountain. That shit sees the light of day but these tracks, verse-chorus-bridge'd and a perfect 3.5 minutes each, get buried?

No one's gonna get rich off this album, duh. But you'd think EMI would at least try to some revenue out of their investment. Right now it's just sitting on YouTube and rapidshare, getting enjoyed without monetization. Surely that's more offensive to the record company than anything on the album itself.

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One of the downsides of the two-party system

Is that there's not a whole lot you can do when you get kicked around by less-bad-than-the-other-guys-Crats.

This is the situation gays find themselves in. Obama hasn't done shit for gays, up to and including ignoring all the shit he promised us when he was trying to get us to vote for him instead of Hillary.

So gays are cutting off his allowance. This is great (and about fucking time), but it's somewhat annoying that this is more or less the only thing we can do under the current political system: Keep our teaspoon out of his funding Atlantic.

If you're British and the Labour Party ignores you or won't acknowledge your issues, you can vote for the Liberal Democrats, or the Greens, or a smaller party that might get have a Parliament seat or two. This is how it works in most Western countries.

In the States, however, this 'punish the home team!' shit always feels like that episode of the Simpsons where Bush and Gore are secretly replaced by imperialistic aliens. When the citizens of Springfield get wise to it, the aliens reveal themselves and taunt, 'What are you gonna do, vote for a third-party candidate? Go ahead, throw your vote away!' The episode ends when Kang has been elected and enslaves the human race. 'Don't blame me,' Homer says, 'I voted for Kodos'.

The fact is, Democrats have pretty weak incentives for giving gays full equality. What are gays gonna do, elect the party that brought us Rick Santorum, Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh in protest? Yeah, that'll teach 'em.

I like the effort to shut down the Abomination ATM until we get some results out of our lesser-of-two-weevils political allies. But I always wonder how much further gay rights would have come along by now if we had the option of applying some stick, instead of just less carrot.   

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If I didn’t already have a job

I'd be trying to get a grant to write The Social History of The Mall.

This column, about the sloth-paced redevelopment of America's first mall, is an interesting start.

Northgate Mall Ground

I grew up near this mall. It was my mall, I guess, my neighbor. It was the place I first bought non-elastic pants (age 10, against my will), first ate a Cinnabon (still working that one off) and first got arrested (long story). I wrote a report on this mall in the 8th grade,* and all I remember now is that in 1950, it was the first place to use 'magic eye' doors, the ones that open automatically when you walk toward them, the ones we're all used to by now.

'The world we live in now is as different from 1950 as 1950 was from 1890,' the writer says, and that's true in some ways but not others. We're not impressed by the 'magic eye' anymore, but we still don't want to open our own doors.  

Northgate got remodeled, what, three times over the course of my childhood? Chris Rock said every city has two malls: The White Mall, and The Mall White People Used to Go To. By the time I was independently shopping, Northgate was firmly the latter: Everything had kind of an Acme vibe. The food court had independent establishments instead of chains, you could still smoke inside, all the stores used plus-sized mannequins,  etc. Even The Sharper Image was like 'nah, we'll sit this one out.' 

I have no idea if the latest defibrillation will re-animate Northgate and turn it into anything but the parking-lot pimple I remember from my Junior Consumer-hood. But it says something about us, right? That you can't make a mall work anymore. What made us the kind of people who wanted to shop in a stale-climed fauxborhood full of basketball shoes and yesterday's department stores? What makes us the kind of people who don't want to do that anymore?

Anyway, if I didn't have a job. That's all I'm saying.

 

*Yes, Europeans, Americans do school projects on malls. You probably still have your overhead slides from your presentation, 'Brie: More Delightful Than Gouda?' so shut the fuck up.  

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Greasier pussycat, kill kill!

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One thing I still love about living in Denmark

Is the deep and thorough understanding that Denmark is a country among many, and is a player, not the driver, in a number of overlapping spheres (Scandinavia, the EU, 'The West', etc).

Obviously, America is a larger, more powerful, more whatever country. But you see disproportionately dumbass shit like this all the time:

But Obama's calculations are quite different. Whatever his personal sympathies may be, if he is intent on sticking to his original strategy, then he can have no interest in helping the opposition. His strategy toward Iran places him objectively on the side of the government's efforts to return to normalcy as quickly as possible, not in league with the opposition's efforts to prolong the crisis. 

What Obama needs is a rapid return to peace and quiet in Iran, not continued ferment. His goal must be to deflate the opposition, not to encourage it.

America, perhaps less so than Denmark but still fundamentally, is a spectator to the events in Iran. There's not a whole lot America can do, realistically. Yes, the world is watching to see what the U.S. will do, but it's unlikely that anything the president does, from ignoring the unrest to passing out Jell-Pops, is going to significantly change the outcome. Like Denmark, The U.S. is gonna wait to see what happens and then react to the new status quo. The only thing America can control is how dumbass it behaves while it's waiting.

Like a tantruming 8th-grade girl, sometimes America needs to be reminded it's not all about you.

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